You torrent?

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It’s fairly common for us-wot-use-computers to be considered experts at all things computery. However, this is often not the case are there are so many different areas of computeriness that being an expert in all of them is, invariably, impossible. For example, please do not EVER ask me about networking. Wi-Fi or otherwise. I can hack my way through the minefield if I need to but I sure as hell don’t enjoy it and most certainly don’t want to do it any more than needed.

Software usage I’m pretty good on, but that comes with the job really, so when Louise asked for some advice on how to get someone up and running and downloading torrents as quickly as possible I figured I could handle that. I also figured that I may as well post it here too as, who knows, it may be beneficial to others. The following information is based solely on what I use. YMMV.

Disclaimer: There are many illegal files that can be downloaded. There are also many legal files available as torrents, so please stick to them. I am not responsible for what you choose to download.

So, what are “torrents”? Technically a torrent is just a file containing information that is used by a torrent application. When you want to download something, be it software, music or videos, you find a torrent file, and use that to download the files.

The name comes from the underlying technology that provides “peer-to-peer” file transfers, known as BitTorrent. The clever bit is that you aren’t downloading one big file from one place (like a website) but smaller chunks of that file direct from other people. The torrent application handles the downloading of the chunks and, once it’s got all the chunks it needs, it assembles them into the file you wanted to download.

First things first, you’ll need a torrent application. I use μTorrent as it’s simple, easy to use and light on resources. I have used Azureus in the past but it can be a little greedy when it comes to your system memory. I’ll be talking specifically about μTorrent from here on out.

Right, you’ve downloaded μTorrent (or if you haven’t go and do that now). One thing to note is that you don’t need to install it. I like to keep things organised, so I created a folder in c:program filesutorrent, pasted the utorrent.exe file in there, then created a shortcut to it. You can put the shortcut anywhere you like, either on your desktop or add it to your Start menu. Up to you.

Next up, where to find torrent files. Well there are a magnitude of sites out there, but I typically use two. TorrentSpy and IsoHunt. They should be fairly straightforward to use, just search for whatever you want to download. When you see what you want in the search results, click on the link and you should find an option to “Download Torrent”.

Can you guess what the next step is? That’s right (gosh, we are clever little monkeys), click the “Download Torrent” link. Your browser will probably ask you what you want to do with it, so make sure it opens the file with μTorrent. If you don’t get the option, you’ll need to find where the .torrent file was downloaded to, and open it in μTorrent manually*.

Almost there, still with me?

μTorrent will now be opened and you’ve got one final step. You need to tell it where you want to the downloaded files to go. Again I have a Torrents folder, and under that I create subfolders as necessary.

And that’s it. μTorrent will start downloading as soon as it finds someone who is hosting the file. Simple.

A few things to note then:

  1. As soon as you give it a .torrent file, μTorrent will ‘reserve’ the filename in your system. If you browse to where you asked it to save the files you’ll see the filename there already. This does NOT mean it’s finished downloading. Check the status in the μTorrent window to see if it’s finished or not.
  2. Once you have finished downloading, it’s considered good manners to leave the files available to others. This is the basis for a peer-to-peer system. You can throttle the “upload” speed in the μTorrent settings if you are worried about impact on your connection speed.
  3. I’ve deliberately not mentioned RSS feeds, which μTorrent can handle, I’m saving that for another post.

So there you have it, a quick(ish) guide to downloading torrents. I hope it’s useful. If you get stuck, I can recommend the μtorrent forums, or if it’s a more general question, feel free to ask here.

* Whilst I like not having to install μTorrent, the downside is that it doesn’t setup ‘associations’. So you have to tell Windows which application it should use to open .torrent files.

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