General Question

Fred931's avatar

What is a torrent?

Asked by Fred931 (9429points) September 25th, 2009
25 responses
“Great Question” (2points)

I’m not 100% sure what a torrent does or if it does anything bad. I don’t have a virus alert or anything right now, but I would just like to know what they are and what they are used for.

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patg7590's avatar

a very heavy rain
“A torrential downpour”

Fred931's avatar

No, as in computer terminology.

patg7590's avatar

In all seriousness a torrent is a way of distributing a file or files.

If I have a file I want to share, I create a torrent file and upload it to a tracker, such as The Pirate Bay

I am then the seed and I upload the file to anyone else who joins the swarm
people in the swarm who are recieveing the file are called leeches

while a leech is downloading the parts of the file they need, they are simultaneously uploading the parts they have

when they finish the file, they remain on as a seed and the swarm continues to get faster and faster.

The technology is incredible but sadly, torrents can fail when too many people “hit and run” or leech and leave as soon as the download finishes.

Good torrent ettiquette is to seed to at least a 1.0 ratio.

Fred931's avatar

So what are torrents used for?

Sarcasm's avatar

A torrent is a file. Not necessarily a virus, though it is possible that the file you get is infected.

Torrents are used for filesharing (legal and illegal). If you have ever used Kazaa or Limewire, those are similar to how torrents work.
Every user with the file (so long as they have a specific program running) is “seeding” it (hosting it, allowing others to copy it). Files are all split up into dozens of little pieces. As a “leech” (someone downloading it), you will take bits and pieces from all of the seeds who have it available for you.

Torrents are used for any kind of files. Documents, movies, songs, games, operating systems, other programs, you name it.

patg7590's avatar

@Sarcasm maybe I should change my name so people get when I’m using sarcasm. What do you think?

Fred931's avatar

OK, now here’s a runoff question: I’ve been playing some MMO games, and an online friend says that he is downloading full games such as Juiced 2 and Halo from a torrent or torrent system. Is this legal?

Fred931's avatar

In fact, i have him online right now and i can ask him questions!

Sarcasm's avatar

It’s questionable at best.
For the most part, games require legitimate authentication keys in order to install and/or play them.
So perhaps your friend legitimately did buy those games, and does have his own legitimate authentication keys, but lost the installation CDs over time (I’ve done that plenty). In which case, it makes sense to re-download them and use his own key to play.

On the other hand, he may be using a “cracked” key (Not his own) to install the game. In this case, it would definitely be illegal.

patg7590's avatar

Why wouldn’t it be? I Mean of course you should give people the choice of paying for or using for fee your product right ?
I hope i was clear that time…

justn's avatar

@Fred931 That most likely isn’t legal unless the companies that made the games distributed them that way, and your friend purchased them from that company.

But then, I would have no incentive to seed to a 1.0 ratio if I paid for the content I downloaded with a torrent file. In my opinion, a company shouldn’t distribute files via bit torrent unless they are offering them for free.

Fred931's avatar

He has downloaded over 20 games. Probably illegal, then?

justn's avatar

@Fred931 most likely.

patg7590's avatar

Yes. Illegal. Lol
according to wikipedia, Assassins creed, sold 30,000 copies and was torrented 700,000 times.

I think those were the numbers anyhow

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

@Fred931 No it is not legal. Distributing copyrighted software is the definition of software piracy.

oratio's avatar

Ok. This is what I understand.

A torrent is a small file of the type .torrent. Kind of like a picture can be a .jpg or a .png.

If you have something you want to share with other people – be it a movie, pictures, a document or anything you can store digitally – you can make a .torrent file that contains data about what you want to share, what your IP is and where on the computer it is.

You then share this file with other people. You usually find this file on a torrent tracker. These trackers – as they are called – are just another word for a web site where people share the torrent file they made. The Pirate Bay is one you might have heard of, but there are thousands. Some are public like The Pirate Bay, and others are private, where you have to become a member.

People who want the files you are sharing then download this .torrent file. This file needs to be read by a torrent client. There are many. uTorrent and Azareus are two common ones. This is a program that reads the data on the .torrent file.

The program then connects to the IP’s stored in the file and starts to download the actual shared target files.

Now, the genius of the torrent system, is that everyone who downloads the small .torrent file and starts the download of the target file share their IP and what they download with each other, and download small pieces of the whole file from multiple downloaders kind of like getting pieces of a puzzle from multiple places to eventually have a complete puzzle.

That means that you don’t necessarily download from the original creator of the .torrent, but from everyone that has downloaded and continues to share, and the ones that are downloading at the same time as you. This usually means faster download, no congestion and the more people that downloads the faster it goes.

FutureMemory's avatar

I downloaded a program just the other day that retails for $495. I love technology!

SeventhSense's avatar

I would never trust torrent files. Seeding and sharing files also leaves you hugely vulnerable to hijack and infection.

patg7590's avatar

@seventhsense- that is just silly

SeventhSense's avatar

Tell that to my computer. You’re sharing bits and pieces of files and code from unknown sources and that’s secure? Suit yourself. When you get an insidious back door virus that so embedded on your hard drive to be indistinguishable from Windows and there are purchases in your name originating from France, maybe you’d be a little less giddy as well. ~_~

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

People intentionally upload infected files to music sharing sites, why wouldn’t the same happen with bit torrents?

Sarcasm's avatar

@SeventhSense Torrents utilize MD5 hash functions. Your program will not download a bullshit file.
A hash from a beta installer I downloaded, for example, is as follows: 4D5D1A37 D7CA3A71 E7D2429C 5EFA5199 92B5DAAF (Aion’s official CB->1.5 patch in case anyone was curious)

Any change to the file and that hash would be vastly different, and it would not be accepted by the recipient’s client.

patg7590's avatar

@SeventhSense I use a mac, so this fear mongering doesn’t apply to me.
@Sarcasm thank you for your voice of reason

SeventhSense's avatar

Suit yourself.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Trojans and viruses are often included in keygens, as those programs must be run manually in order for a downloader to play many games or use downloaded software that is protected by a serial No./challenge-response code. Usually, though, if you need to crack it, there’s a strong chance you’ve downloaded something you perhaps ought not to have.

If someone makes a torrent containing an infected file, the MD5 hash will check out OK, and your torrent client will not reject the data. In this instance, the uploader is, perhaps, uploading an infected file deliberately in order to infect others’ computers with a virus/trojan/keylogger. These people are relying on the fact that on any given swarm, there are likely to be some people who are ignorant of good PC security practice, which is to scan any file that you download before executing any part of it.

Effectively, the malicious uploader is playing a numbers game. Imagine a swarm of 20,000 computers, all down/uploading an infected file. Assume that 10% of those computers’ users are running with admin privileges, and that 10% of those admins don’t scan the files they download. Instead, they hurriedly click on the install.exe or the keygen.exe, neither reading the comments for the torrent nor virus scanning the file first, as they are desperate to get that game or (and I’ve seen this happen) watch the latest episode of a show. That still makes a healthy 200 computers infected and further distributing the infection through the swarm. If the malicious code is a keylogger, then credit card details are the likely target for the attack, and I dare say that with 200 compromised computers, it is likely that it will be worth the attacker’s while eventually.

In short, if you’re going to use Bit Torrent, you need to know how to minimise the inherent risks:

1. Read the torrent comments first
2. If you’re jumping on a torrent early, consider waiting – you’ll likely get better speeds when there are more leechers/seeders, and you can check the comments section again.
2. Don’t ever just double-click on the files! (this goes for pretty much every download you do, via torrent or not)
3. Scan the files before you run them, preferably with more than one AV scanner.

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