20 Essential Tricks and Skills Every BitTorrent User Should Know

Every week, we're going to spotlight a popular program or service and show you how to grab hold of the reigns and get the most out of what you're doing. We already kicked off the series with guides to tweaking Outlook and Firefox , and today we turn our attention to BitTorrent.

BitTorrent, as you're probably already aware, is a decentralized peer-to-peer file sharing protocol ideal for transferring large files (and if you didn't know that, don't worry, we also include some lightweight tips to get you started). In a nutshell, the way it works is when you're downloading a massive file -- like a Linux distribution, for example --bits and pieces of the file will be uploaded at the same time. Typically BitTorrent allows for a more efficient and faster transfer method than traditional, Direct Connect P2P software.

To get started, you need a desktop client. We recommend using uTorrent , or uT for short. We prefer uTorrent based on its combination of advanced features, performance, and small footprint -- in other words, it has all the makings of a power user program.

On the following pages, we'll not only show you how to get the most out of uTorrent, but out of BitTorrent in general. We'll cover both basic and advanced tips, and then toss in some of our favorite third-party add-ons for good measure. Whether you're new to BitTorrent or a seasoned vet, there's something in this guide for you.


Know the Lingo

Before diving head first into the world of BitTorrent, take some time to familiarize yourself with the protocol's language. For example, do you know the difference between a tracker and a leecher? Why are leechers frowned upon, and how can you avoid becoming one? These are just some of the terms you'll need to know as you traverse the BitTorrent universe. Here's your handy cheat sheet:


Image Credit: lili.org

Torrent: Lazy linguists sometimes substitute Torrent in place of BitTorrent, but it actually has a definition all its own. A torrent is a small metadata file usually just a few kilobytes in size. It contains information about the file(s) you're trying to download, such as file names, file sizes, where to download, and so forth. The torrent file (.torrent) is not the actual data you're trying to retrieve.

Peer : Any other computer on the Internet which is both downloading and uploading portions of a file at the same time.

Leech(er) : There are two meanings for this one. The most common definition of a leech is someone who disconnects and stops sharing a file as soon as they've obtained a complete copy. The fewer people there are sharing a file, the longer it takes to download, and for this reason, leeching is highly discouraged.

Peers who haven't finished downloading a file are also referred to as leechers, but not necessarily in a derogatory way.

Seed(er): It's good etiquette to continue sharing a file even after you've finished downloading the entire torrent, if only for a short while. This practice is known as seeding.

Reseed: When no more seeds exist for a particular file, then anyone who was actively trying to download it will be unable to finish. A reseeder is someone who has the completed torrent, reconnects to the swarm, and saves the day.

Swarm: Any group of users connected to each other for downloading and/or sharing a particular file.This includes peers, seeds, and leeches.

Tracker: A central server which stores the torrents, coordinates the action of all the seeders, peers, and leechers, and manages the connections. The Pirate Bay (TPB) is the largest tracker on the Internet and often the center of media attention due to ongoing legal issues. Not all trackers are public; there are several private trackers which require a membership.

Share Rating / Ratio: This refers to the ratio of uploaded data divided by downloaded data and is applicable only for the current session. A share rating of 1.0 means you've uploaded the same amount of data as you've downloaded.

Where to Find Torrents

Let’s address the 900lb gorilla right off the bat. Not everyone uses BitTorrent for, ahem, legitimate reasons, and for them, there are plenty of less scrupulous tracking sites littered all over the Web. You know the ones, because they’re usually tangled in high-profile legal proceedings. Let us be clear: We don’t condone software piracy, even if we don’t’ always agree with the DRM measures paying customers have to put up with.

So where you can find legal torrents? As it turns out, there are a handful of resources serving up free and unrestricted content. These include:

www.legaltorrents.com – specializes in “high quality open-licensed (Creative Commons) digital media and art.” Several membership tiers are available, including one that’s free and comes with unlimited access to all content and custom feeds by email and RSS.

www.legittorrents.info – a no fuss tracking site serving up a variety of free and legal torrents ranging from Podcasts to Release Candidate software.

http://linuxtracker.org – just like it sounds, this is the go-to tracker for all things Linux.

www.publicdomaintorrents.com – deals entirely with films that are no longer copyrighted, many of which come optimized for mobile devices.

http://bt.etree.org – an awesome resource for music lovers, bt.etree includes a ton of live concert recordings from trade friendly artists.

In addition to dedicated torrent sites, many software publishers -- especially in the Linux community – include torrents in their downloads section. In many cases, you’ll find it’s much faster to download a Linux distro or mammoth game demo by downloading via BitTorrent instead of HTTP.

Manage Torrents Remotely

One way to access uTorrent from a remote location is to install a desktop login client like LogMeIn, which gives you access to your PC through a Web interface. But if you're only interested in controlling uTorrent while away from home and not your desktop, there's a way you can do that. After installing and configuring uTorrent's WebUI, you'll have access to all of your BT downloads along with the ability to add or remove torrents. Here's how to set it up.

Download the latest version of WebUI from here (see here if the download link is broken). Bear in mind that this is a beta release, meaning instability could rear its ugly head, although we never ran into any problems. Rename the downloaded file to webui.zip .

We need to place the webui.zip file in the same location as uTorrent's settings.dat file. In Windows 7, navigate to C:\Users [USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming\uTorrent . In earlier versions of Windows, the correct path should be C:\Documents and Settings\[USERNAME]\Application Data\uTorrent . If you can't find it, or the directory doesn't exist, perform a search for settings.dat.

If you're running a portable version of uTorrent (and we'll show you how do that later), you'll find the settings.dat file in the uTorrent.exe folder.

The next step is to enable WebUI in the uTorrent client. Go to Options>Preferences and you should now see a WebUI entry. Click on it, then put a check in the Enable WebUI checkbox. Enter in a username and password and check Enable Guest account with username. Hit Apply, but don't exit out just yet.

If you don't remember the port number you used to configure port forwarding earlier, go back into the Connection tab and make note of it once again. We're going to need this in the next step.

Let's test out if you followed the steps correctly. Open up your browser and type http://localhost:PORT/gui/ and substitute the port number from above where it says PORT. Once you enter in your username and password, you should be in the WebU's interface.

Of course, the whole point of this is to manage your BT downloads from a remote location and not from the same PC you installed uTorrent on. You'll need to know your IP address, which you can retrieve from sites like WhatIsMyIP.com and myIPaddress.com . Use your IP address to login remotely, substituting it in place of localhost. So for example if your IP address is 12.34.56.789 and the port you recorded earlier was 12121, you would type in http://12.34.56.789:12121/gui/ .

Note that this isn't likely to work by trying to access your client PC from within your home network. Instead, you'll need the IP address assigned by your router. For example, http:192.168.1.133:12121/gui/ . You can find your PC's internal IP by opening up the Command Prompt (Start>Run>CMD) and typing ipconfig . Make note of the IPv4 Address.

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