How torrents work and how legal it is

Many Internet users are accustomed to downloading movies and TV series, although now there are a lot of various services, applications and sites where you can watch whatever your heart desires for a small fee. Some labels even roll out new items on their services right away, and there is no need to go to the movies. But the so-called torrents are not losing their popularity. What it is, how it works and how legal it is – let’s figure it out in this material.

What is torrent
Torrent, also known as BitTórrent (literally translated as bitstream), is a peer-to-peer (P2P) network protocol created to share files over the Internet. A peer-to-peer network is a peer-to-peer network where nodes “talk” without a central element. A network protocol is a set of rules and a sequence of actions. All this together allows devices to connect and exchange data.

Torrent files are transferred in parts between devices (for convenience, we will mean a PC ). Each client downloads pieces of files and simultaneously distributes them to other members of the network. At the same time, data redundancy is achieved, which makes it possible to reduce dependence on each network node. Simply put, the same pieces of files are stored on many computers, and if some of the computers storing files disappear from the network, the network will continue to work.

The creator of the protocol – Bram Cohen – wrote the first BitTorrent torrent client in the Python programming language on April 4, 2001. The first version of the protocol was launched on July 2, 2001.

Torrents are distributed via metadata files with a “.torrent” extension. Each such file contains the required information: tracker URL, file name and size, and checksums of SHA1 segments of the distributed files. Also, the file may contain optional information: the hash-sums of the files as a whole and alternative sources that do not work using the BitTorrent protocol.

How BitTorrent Works

The client application connects to the tracker specified in the file. It sends him his address and the hash-sum of the files he wants to download. In response, the tracker sends the client the addresses of other PCs that distribute the necessary files. Further, the tereker periodically transmits to the client new addresses of the distributing PCs, if such appear on the network.

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Clients communicate with each other directly, without the involvement of a tracker server. The more devices store the file you need, the faster the download will take place, since different parts of the file can be simultaneously downloaded from a heap of sources.

When connected, clients tell each other about the segments they have. The PC that wants to download the segment – it is called the leecher – sends a request and, if the second PC, the seeder, is ready to give, the leecher receives this segment. The client then verifies the checksum of the segment. If it matches the one recorded in the torrent file, then the segment is successfully downloaded, and the client notifies everyone connected that he has this segment. If the checksums differ, then the segment starts downloading again. Some clients ban those peers that give inappropriate segments too often.

The order of the exchange of segments is built so that the rarest segments are distributed among the clients first of all, thus increasing the availability of the file on the network. Segments can weigh from 16 to 4096 kilobytes.

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End game mode
The computer enters this mode when the download is almost complete. In the end game, the client requests the remaining segments from all connected ones. Thanks to this, there is no slowdown or complete “freezing” of the download process of a file that has almost been downloaded, due to some slow clients.

When the client has received the complete file, he begins to give data to other network participants, that is, it becomes a seed. Further, the seed periodically sends signals to the tracker about changes in the state of downloads, updating the lists of IP addresses.

General protocol features

There is no download queue.
Files are loaded in small chunks.
Peer clients exchange segments according to the principle “you – me, me – you”.
The downloaded fragments are immediately available to other clients.
The integrity of each fragment is monitored.
The entire distribution is split into fragments, so the “lecher” who decided to download only a few files from the download will have a small amount of information stored to maintain the integrity of the fragments. Several files can act as a distribution object, for example, the contents of a directory.

Clients work on the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol, one of the main data transmission protocols of the Internet). Clients and trackers can use any port instead of the standard 6969 to avoid port blocking by some ISPs.

A tracker is a special server that allows clients to find each other. The tracker stores only IP addresses and hash-sums of the distributions and does not know anything about the name and content of the transferred files. Starting with version 4.2.0 of the official client, released in 2015, there is a trackerless work that is based on DHT Kademlia. In this implementation, the tracker is available decentralized to clients in the form of a distributed hash table.


DHT stands for Distributed hash table, that is, a distributed hash table. It is a protocol that allows bittorrent clients to find each other without using a tracker. DHT-enabled clients form a common DHT network and help each other find members of the same giveaways. This allows the participants to find each other faster, reduce the load on the tracker, and support the participants together during periods of unavailability of the tracker.

On many trackers, torrents are distributed with the private flag set, which does not allow using the DHT network. The purpose of this is to prevent the distribution of material to customers who are not registered on this tracker. However, for the user, this means a decrease in the number of seeders, sometimes a significant one. For popular clients uTorrent and qBitTorrent, craftsmen have created free patches that allow you to disable the functions of limiting the use of DHT for private torrents.

Magnet link
magnet: is an open standard URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) ​​scheme. The magnet link allows you to find files without a torrent file. This link contains only the distribution hash code. Magnet links can also be distributed as files with the * .magnet extension.

One of the advantages of magnet links is their openness and platform independence: they can be used to download a file using a variety of applications on most operating systems. Due to the fact that a magnet link is a short string of text, it can be easily copied via the clipboard, sent via email, instant messengers and SMS.

Disadvantages and limitations

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If there is no seeder on the network that has all the fragments of the distribution of the desired file, then all the parts cannot be downloaded until the client with the full set appears. A distribution in which there is no full content for a long time is called a “dead” distribution. Also, there is no anonymity in the torrent network, it is possible to find out the IP addresses of those who download and those who distribute. But you cannot find out what other distributions or downloads are made from this address.

Also, some of the torrent trackers have open access, that is, anyone can download any information, and these distributions are not checked. Therefore, some torrents may contain malware.

In 2008, the development of a new generation of the protocol began – BitTorrent v2. It replaces the SHA-1 hashing algorithm with the more advanced SHA-256. It is incompatible with the old one, so modern clients can work with both protocols.

Is it legal to use torrents
Many trackers are blocked in Russia for distributing pirated content. But trackers also contain a lot of copyright files and free giveaways, which are completely legal. If you download content that is not copyrighted, there will be no consequences.


For copyright infringement in Russian legislation, there is administrative responsibility – criminal and civil. To bring to administrative responsibility under clause 7.12 of the Administrative Code, it is necessary to prove that with the help of the downloaded content a person will receive income. And to prosecute the cost of copyright infringement must exceed 100 thousand rubles.

In Russia and in many other countries, access restriction is mainly used in the fight against illegal distribution of content. At the same time, the user does not actually face liability for illegal downloading. But in some states, even simple downloading of illegal content entails real administrative or even criminal liability.

The BitTorrent protocol by itself is not illegal or insecure. It is simply a medium for sharing any type of file, and there are many legal torrent services out there.

But sharing and downloading copyrighted material using BitTorrent or otherwise is illegal in many countries. In simple terms: torrenting itself is legal, but downloading unauthorized copyrighted material is illegal.

Best torrent clients

BitTorrent is the original and official torrent client from the protocol developers. In the free version, it shows ads.

BitComet is another classic application that appeared almost simultaneously with the development of the protocol. But the reviews about him are contradictory.

BitLord is another native torrent client that is available for Windows and MacOS platforms. Originally released in 2003, BitLord emerged from the aforementioned BitComet and includes a number of features not found on other platforms. For example, a built-in VLC player for in-app video viewing, API-based subtitle support, and a built-in torrent search engine.

Halite is an ultra-lightweight, super versatile torrent client. Comes with all the programs and features you would expect from a modern torrent client, including a managed torrent queue system, magnetic URI support, super-fill, and the ability to create torrent files in the app.

uTorrent is a very popular client that has become more difficult to recommend over time due to the oversupply of ads. The program was originally a lightweight and easy-to-use torrent client. In 2010, uTorrent began to include the Conduit Engine toolbar in its download utility, as well as making the default Conduit homepage and search engine without consent. In 2011, uTorrent started including the Bing Toolbar and then announced a paid version of the app called uTorrent Plus.

qBittorrent is a free open source client, no ads, updated regularly.

Deluge is another free open source client. It differs from qBittorrent in its smaller size – 34 kilobytes.

Tixati is a cross-platform client.

Transmission is a client for macOS and linux, the Windows version has less functionality.

Vuze is a torrent client. Has free and paid versions.

Torrent network and cryptocurrencies
BitTorrent, Inc. Is a private American company headquartered in San Francisco, was founded on September 22, 2004 by Bram Cohen and Ashwin Navin. At its peak, BitTorrent’s audience reached 150 million monthly active users.

Justin Sun

In June 2018, the company was bought by the billionaire creator of the TRON cryptocurrency, Justin Sun. The protocol allows you to transfer any type of file. This helped combine the BitTorrent network and the TRON blockchain, and the Atlas project and the BTT cryptocurrency was created.

The BTT (BitTorrent Token) cryptocurrency first went on sale on January 28, 2019 on the Binance exchange. In just 15 minutes, 60 billion BitTorrent tokens were sold. This brought the team about $ 7 billion. Now the issue of BitTorrent (the number of coins in circulation) is 990,000,000,000.

The Atlas project does not involve mining. Developers do not see the point in rewarding miners for huge waste of electricity and expensive equipment – the principle of the proof-of-work algorithm (for example, in bitcoin).

Consensus algorithm BTT – delegated proof-of-stake (DPoS). It is based on real-time voting between token holders. Super representatives are selected who monitor the stability of the system, and are rewarded for this. If the community is not satisfied with the representatives, they can be re-elected. The same algorithm is used by the Tron (TRX) cryptocurrency, the main blockchain for the Atlas project.

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BTT can be obtained through exchange for other currencies, or through the airdrop. For holders of the Tron (TRX) cryptocurrency, an airdrop is being produced, scheduled for six years. To get BTT coins for free, it is enough to store any number of TRX tokens. But the more there are, the more BTT you get for the airdrop:

from February 11, 2019 – 10.890 million BTT;
from March 11, 2019 to February 2020 – 11.880 million BTT;
from 11 March 2020 to February 2021 ー 12.870 million BTT;
until February 2025, the airdrop amount will be increased by 0.1% of all tokens annually.
The airdrop for TRX holders is made on the 11th of every month. You can follow the BTT course