Modern P2P File Sharing: The Basics of Legal Bittorrent Networking

Legal Bittorrent Networking

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could share your own original music with other people, like your closest friends and family? Of course, you can upload it to YouTube, but what if you want to use a better distribution method? Or, what if you had a software program that you wrote that you wanted to share with other programmers? Torrent software is the gateway to that world – a world where file sharing is easy and fast. And, there’s very little system overhead on your computer. But, the technique isn’t without its difficulties.

What Is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is a popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing scheme. Since 2006, bittorrent has been the primary means for users to trade books, movies, software, and pretty much anything else that’s digital. While this format maybe unpopular with the legal authorities and major content rights holders, users love it.

Bittorrents, or “torrents,” work by breaking up a file into many smaller files. So, instead of downloading a single file from a single source, you download multiple small files from multiple sources.

A Python-language programmer named Bram Cohen created the system back in 2001. His intention was to share it with everyone. Today, the torrent community has grown to encompass millions of users all over the world.

Without Cohen, software companies like Vuze simply would not exist. And, here in the legal realm is where things get sticky for the industry.

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Why Is BitTorrent Special?

Unlike centralized distribution channels, bittorrent is completely decentralized. This, of course, makes it subject to copyright infringement issues. It’s not that the technology is evil, per se. But, the technology has some temptations that can attract people that will commit crimes.

Torrent networking is not a publish-subscribe model, like some peer-to-peer networks, such as the Gnutella network used by Kazaa. Instead, torrents are straight peer-to-peer systems where individual users do the file sharing.

Torrents enforce quality control by attempting to filter corrupted or dummy files. This ensures that users are only downloading what they intend to download. And, while there is some abuse of the system, it’s kept to a minimum.

Torrents can also achieve download speeds in excess of 1.5 megabits per second and the code is open-source. No one person profits from the success of torrenting.

Many users like this idea, and see this as a feature that helps keep the system pure and uncontrollable by authorities or large companies.

Torrent sharing consists of five major elements. First, there’s swarming. Swarming is the splitting of large files into hundreds of smaller “bits.” The torrenting software can then share these bits across a “swarm” of users who are all linked together by .torrent files.

Tracking is when a specific server helps swarm users find each other. Swarm members also use special software to upload, download and reconstruct the file bits into the completed and usable file. Finally, special files, called .torrent text files, contain the information necessary to located and share target files.

Reward and Punishment

When it comes to torrent sharing, you have to follow the rules, which are more like proper etiquette. So, if you share files via bittorrents, you get increased download speeds. However, if you choose to leech files by not sharing your completed downloads back upwards, you end up with slower torrent download speeds. The key is to upload as much as you download, because torrent tracking servers monitor all swarm users, controlled download speeds.

If you choose to share, the tracker servers will make it worth your while by speeding up your allotted swarm bandwidth, sometimes up to as much as 1,500 kilobits per second. But, if you leech by limiting your upload sharing, the tracking servers will choke your download speeds, often as slow as just one kilobit per second. Remember to give back, so you’ll get something back, too.

In recent years, some users have jumped the torrent ship for the subscriber model. Company Kazaa has entered the space to fulfill user demand. Yet, many users are still weary of sites like Kazaa, because they don’t represent true peer-to-peer sharing. Instead, Kazaa manages the files while users download them.

Regardless of the system you choose to use, always keep it legal. Always check to make sure whatever you’re downloading is copyright free. Like the old adage says, “When in doubt, toss it out.” Just don’t download it – you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, frustration and hefty fines, too. You’ll also stay out of jail.

Julie Brunet loves her work with web management. She often blogs about common questions people have on making the most of the internet.

About Julie Brunet

Julie Brunet loves her work with web management. She often blogs about common questions people have on making the most of the internet.

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