If you're an internet user and a fan of entertainment content, the chances are you've heard of torrenting. You may even have come across some of the best torrent sites on your online travels and considered taking advantage of the service on offer.
But what is torrenting exactly, how does it work and how did the protocol come about? Let's take a deep-dive into the topic without further ado!
What is torrenting exactly?
Torrenting is a means of sharing files on the internet using peer to peer technology. Its beauty is that it lets vast numbers of users from across the world to link and share all types of content, without needing to use a single source of data for download.
The more popular the content and the more people sharing it, the quicker the downloads! Torrenting is used to share everything from films and TV programmes through to written files, images, games and music.
The BitTorrent protocol is often associated with pirating as copyrighted content can – and is – shared freely amongst users. But it also is used legitimately and torrent sites themselves are not illegal in the UK.
However, sites do get shut down if they are allowing pirated content to be shared, which is why we regularly update our list of the best torrent sites.
How does torrenting work?
Torrents ‘swarm' data amongst P2P users. Users actually download the files that are on offer from peers in tiny pieces. Once the client has gathered some data, it can then start to upload it to other users within the ‘swarm'. This allows everyone who wants to download a particular piece of content the chance to upload the same torrent simultaneously. By doing so, the download speeds increase rapidly.
For example, if 100,000 people were downloading the most pirated series of all time – Game of Thrones – then a central server isn't stressed. Instead, every user adds some bandwidth for uploading to other downloading users, maximizing the torrent speed.
Incidentally, we don't endorse the sharing of pirated or copyrighted content – we simply provide information on the best torrent sites.
How did torrenting develop?
Before reviewing the best torrent sites that are currently up and working (remembering that this list changes all of the time!) – let's have a look at how the protocol developed in the first place.
The history of torrenting and file sharing
Filesharing was a fringe activity twenty years ago, reserved for those who could get online and who had their own computers. And it was primarily done by floppy disk! Today, of course, filesharing is a daily activity for millions of people across the globe.
The process of sharing digital files is now extremely fast and efficient, bringing exposure to types of media that had long been forgotten, making the distribution of content a democratic process, and allowing online users to share content with any other user across the world for free.
The early days: The Bulletin Board System
The BBS is generally seen as the start of digital filesharing. Bulletin Board Systems were owned and operated by hobby users and then eventually by businesses. They were almost like intranets, allowing users to read and send messages via their dial-in modem services, to access news and to share files.
BBS systems distributed content using shareware systems, with Commander Keen, Wolfenstein and other shareware packages being known through word of mouth. There were also printed magazines that shared details of other packages such as PKZIP. Some people today still use the PKZIP algorithm for ZIP files! It's interesting to note that many traditional BBS systems are still working and in use today.
Usenet – seventies onwards
These newsgroups were like BBS systems, but they worked using UUCP and allowed servers to share files easily amongst other users. They did this by creating multiple message copies across huge server networks. This system was the medium that actually gave birth to Linux, Mosaic and the WWW itself!
.FTP and ISO – nineties onwards
Underground filesharing began to grow and the FTP site network came into existence as a private, invite-only network which was akin to Usenet. New media was released by groups and couriers would access this; racing new content across servers using FXP. They would earn file upload credits if the file was unique and appropriate. the rewards system and culture meant that files were shared across the world's top sites in a decentralized network, but average users couldn't access the distribution network as it was closed and private to most. Topsites are still going strong today!
A number of other protocols such as IRC and XDCC are still going today but others are now consigned to the history books. The hotline was popular in the nineties for file sharing and heavily mainstream, attracting large businesses to its customer base. However, encryption problems helped to lead to the firm's demise. Napster was perhaps the service which truly brought filesharing to public attention, as a P2P filesharing system that was reserved for music. It had a central location though, which led to its shutdown.
Developers then moved forward with successors to Napster such as Gnutella, Kazaa and EDonkey2000; none of which used central servers.
By 2001, BitTorrent was in place, which pretty much every internet user has used, whether consciously or not. It began the concept of splitting files into chunks and using a P2P, decentralized network.
Today, torrenting is advanced and has even spawned a number of industries in its own right. Although it poses challenges to large media companies, it also helps to bring benefits to independent content creators by democratizing sharing and distribution of files. In fact, thousands of artists choose to use torrenting networks to share their creations freely each year.
We continue to review the best torrent sites each month and to update the listings for the benefit of our readers. Keep up to date and avoid subscribing to a torrent which gets shut down!