Have you heard of torrents? Have you ever wondered how torrents work? Perhaps your friends have used them and you’re curious to learn what they do, or you would like to learn how to use them yourself.

In this article, we will explain what torrents are, how do torrents work and what the advantages and disadvantages are of using them.

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By the end of the article, you’ll not only know about torrents, but you’ll be able to use them for downloading content, distributing files and protecting yourself online when doing so.
First, we’ll look at the key terms and jargon associated with torrents, and then explain what they are. Next, we’ll talk about finding torrents, and searching for content that you will find useful.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into how torrents work and how you can best navigate the torrenting space.

How do torrents work?

In order to comprehensively explore how torrents work, we’ll have to cover some important ground first.

What is a torrent?

Let’s demystify the terminology before we start further discussion. A torrent is only a small file (with a .torrent extension) with details of the files and folders that will be distributed.

But unlike normal direct downloads, such as the ones you can get from websites like Facebook or Softpedia, torrents are distributed over several computers.

How the BitTorrent network works
Image source.

What makes torrents special?

Torrents are based on peer-to-peer technology, first made popular by platforms like Napster and Limewire, and allow multiple computers to host all (or parts) of a file. In a P2P network, computers can talk to each other directly, without having through go through a server computer.

This means that if one or more computers go offline, copies of the file are still available for downloading. It also means that this is a global platform, as bits of files can be spread out over computers located in many countries.

Different kinds of torrent clients

To use torrents, you require a torrent client, which is an application that you install on your computer. Popular clients in 2020 are Vuze, uTorrent, Deluge, BitTorrent, qBittorrent.

uTorrent homepage

They are all free to use, and some have more features than others. Picking which torrent client to use is a personal choice, depending on how many bells and whistles you think you’ll need, but any of them will get the job done.

When installing your torrent client, always download the installer from a reliable source. And uncheck options that may come up during the setup process which can install unwanted toolbars or other software as part of a ‘bundle’.

Torrent clients have a lot of useful features like torrent prioritization, download speed graphs, visualizations of seeds and peers, notification when files are done downloading, media players and much more.

Another interesting fact about torrent clients is that some of them can be installed on smartphones as well, allowing you to download content on the go. Interestingly, some modern browsers like Opera have started offering support for torrents, and allow you to download them straight from the window.

However, they don’t offer the large number of features that a dedicated client will.

What are seeds, peers and leechers?

When you get into torrenting, you will come across terms like seeds and leechers. Let’s break down these terms for you.

A seeder is a person who first shares the file that will be distributed. This is the original file that will be shared and stored in bits and chunks all over the torrent network until more computers have a complete copy.

A peer is a person who has bits and pieces of the seeded file, but not a complete copy. Peers are both uploading and downloading bits of the file simultaneously. Once they get a complete copy, they can turn into seeds by sharing the file (uploading).

Seeding is an important aspect of a strong torrenting community
Image source.

It is good torrenting etiquette to keep seeding once you’ve completed the download of a file.

People who don’t seed after completing a download are called leechers. Leechers are frowned upon in most torrenting communities, because they decrease the health of a torrent, whereas seeding is encouraged.

Imagine that you are looking to download a book that you need badly, but there aren’t enough seeders to give you a complete copy. This happens when a torrent isn’t healthy, so you should try to give back to the torrents community by seeding for as long as possible.

Seeding after downloading

This screenshot shows how torrent files automatically go into seeding mode once the file has finished downloading.

Finding Torrents

Now that you’ve got a pretty good idea about the basics of torrents, let’s look at how you can get started with finding these torrents.

Some popular websites

If you install a torrent client, you will also come across terms like Seed Ratio.

The Seed ratio is a measure of how much data you have uploaded divided by how much data you have uploaded. If you have a ratio of more than 1, it means you’ve uploaded more than you’ve downloaded, and this is much encouraged in many torrent communities, such as private trackers.

Another term you might come across is the tracker. A tracker is a server that tracks the data to be transferred among peers and seeds and keeps track of how much each of them has uploaded or downloaded. Both Open and Private Trackers are available.

The Pirate Bay

We’ve already gone over the best torrent websites still working in 2020.

Private trackers

As opposed to open trackers such as those on websites like RarBG, private trackers are servers that require you to be a member in order to use them. There are many advantages of a private tracker, but also some disadvantages.

Once you register on a private tracker, which often involves getting invited by someone you know, you have access to a great community of torrenting enthusiasts. Most private trackers have high-quality content, with faster speeds and safer downloads. You can often find content on private trackers that are impossible to find in open trackers, including rare, outdated torrents.

On the downside, getting registered on a private tracker is often difficult and can involve an arduous interview process if you don’t know someone who’s already a member. You are also required to maintain a certain minimum seed ratio to keep the community’s torrents healthy.

You also generally need to follow a strict set of rules for each private tracker and need to stay involved and active, so consider carefully before choosing this option.

Downloading the torrent

Downloading the torrent is very straightforward.

First, search for the file you want. From the results, select the file with enough seeders and then just click on the link of the file you want to download and it will open up a page like this:

How to download torrents - downloading the torrent file

Select the Download Torrent button or link and your browser will download the torrent file. Open this file and it will launch your torrent client and start your download immediately.

Here’s a tip for you: every torrent website has comments for each file, which can help you determine whether the file is a good quality or not. If there are enough negative or positive comments or feedback on a particular torrent, it can help you decide whether to go ahead with the download or not.

Magnet links

In recent years, torrent files (with a .torrent extension) have been replaced more and more by magnet links. These are basically a URL or a hyperlink containing the hash code for that torrent.

Your torrent client can use the magnet link to start finding seeds and peers who are sharing that file. Magnet links don’t require a tracker, nor any other downloads.

Using magnet links

Using magnet links is very easy. Many websites, including RARBG, offer magnet links by default. Once you’ve located the file you want to download, you just click on the magnet-shaped icon and your browser will automatically open up your torrent client, e.g. Vuze, and your download will start.

Pirate Bay's magnet link

The magnet link is the tiny magnet icon next to the torrent name.

Making the most of torrents

In order to have the best experience when you’re using torrents, there are some important things you can improve.

Optimizing your download speed

The speed at which your torrent gets downloaded depends on many factors. In some cases, the file sizes which you want to download can be huge, such as 20 GB. A lot depends on the bandwidth of your internet connection, but if you think that it is sufficient, then you should look into other factors such as ISP throttling, the number of seeds and peers for your torrent, connection load, and setting up the correct and upload speeds within your torrent client.

You can also check if your connection speed is as you expected from within the torrent client, and set the download and upload speeds accordingly.

In case issues persist, you might need to check if your firewall allows torrent traffic to pass through, and make the necessary settings. The website for your torrent client will have the necessary instructions for this.

Depending on which client you are using, the option to change the download and upload speed limits should be accessible at the bottom of the screen.

Change the download and upload speed limits

Advanced features of torrent clients

If you’ve ever had trouble watching a stream on YouTube, you might have realized that download speeds and video quality is affected by how much bandwidth is available. Often, other users of your network can be affected by your downloading, and vice versa.

Knowing how torrent work, you can imagine they would take up a lot of bandwidth, and you’d be correct!

One feature offered by Vuze, uTorrent and some other clients is a scheduler to set the days or hours when your torrents will be active. For example, you can set your preferences for the torrents to only seed, go full speed, or at a limited speed, or stop torrents altogether during predefined timings.

This is helpful for people who don’t wish to affect the household’s internet bandwidth during the day but run torrents at night when everyone is asleep.

Remote control

Another great option if you’re a busy person who’s always on the go, is the remote control feature for uTorrent and some other clients. This is basically an app for smartphones which allows you to log in and control your torrents running on your computer from a phone.

You can pause, resume, delete and start new torrents remotely, making it really convenient.

Are torrents illegal?

One of the most popular questions when it comes to torrenting is about its legality. Let’s look at that now.

What the law says

Torrents have a reputation as being illegal, but are they actually? It turns out, the technology behind torrents is neither illegal nor does it break any other laws.

However, using torrents to distribute and download copyrighted content such as movies, TV shows, ebooks, music and other media is illegal in many countries and territories. However, it is perfectly legal to share and distribute non-copyrighted content, and you will face no issues doing so.

In fact, many companies use torrents as a way to quickly and efficiently distribute their software, including Ubuntu, Linux and other software companies.

Read more: Is Torrenting Illegal?

Keeping yourself secure

If you do choose to use torrents, we suggest taking some measures to protect yourself from law enforcement and agencies enforcing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). One way to do this is to use a VPN service to hide your IP and prevent detection.

Another issue to watch out for is malware, adware and other nasty software that can infect your computer from a torrent download. You should install an antivirus software and ensure that it is up to date. As always, never download files from suspicious/unreliable websites.

Spotting fake torrents

Another danger to watch out for when torrenting is fake files, which can contain malicious content such as spyware, viruses or adware. These files can be disguised as normal media files such as Mp3s or even as password protected .zip or .rar files.

You should be particularly wary of media files ending with .exe extensions. The safest way to download torrents is to use verified torrents that someone on the website has marked as safe.


Now you know the details of the technology behind torrent and how torrents work and will have no trouble enjoying the access to a world of information and media that torrents offer.

Remember to use reliable websites, avoid suspicious torrents and follow the etiquette of good torrenting. For added security, consider using a VPN service as well.

Recommended reads:

Best VPNs for Torrenting

Best Torrent Sites