I’m quite sure everyone reading this already knows what a torrent is. If you don’t, a quick search on Google for “What is a torrent” will give you the answer, and if you are in a hurry, here’s the short version: a torrent is basically an improved version of Peer-to-Peer, where you copy and share files directly from other users’ computers, instead of a central location like a web or ftp server. There has to be at least one computer dedicated to managing the transfers, called a tracker.
When you want to copy a file from a torrent, the tracker gives you the addresses of all other people that have that file, and manages your upload and download speeds (for example, those who upload at a higher speed, can also download faster, and downloading from the same country is usually also faster). So, you must give/upload as much as possible to get the highest download speed.
For a long time, torrents have been associated with illegal activity and cyber piracy, as the first ones to use them were people who shared movies, music, programs and other copyrighted files. Even now, most of the torrent users are doing this (whether that is good or bad for the copyright holders is another question).
But that is not the only way torrents can be used. Big and small companies are starting to realize that it is much more effective and cheaper to let their users host what they share, instead of keeping it on their servers, which can always go down due to overload or other technical problems (take for example Microsoft’s servers when they released the free test version of Windows Vista and 7, or CrunchyRoll’s frequently-inaccessible online-TV streams).
A few TV companies already started streaming their shows via torrents (although in a bit more complicated setup, which uses advanced copyright protection techniques). The Open Source community has been doing this for a few years now (users download software & operating systems like Ubuntu and OpenSuse via torrents), as they simply don’t have the money for the insane bandwidth they’re using.
So, as you can see, there is a future for torrents, and it’s most probably not going to fade away like P2P. If you are using or planning to use them, here are a few simple but powerful tips to help you get the highest download speed possible. They are a bit technical, so I assume you know your way around a computer (plus, the images should help a lot).
1. Use local trackers. If your torrent has a tracker in your country, you should use it. Even if your speed is the same whether local or international, a torrent will always download faster from people who are closer to you physically. If you are in Germany and use an US-based tracker, the peers’ information must first go from all around the globe to the US, and then come back to you over trans-continental cables, which will always be slower.
2. Use tracker aggregators. There are a lot of services that search other torrent sites and gather all torrent trackers in one place, so you get the maximum number of peers possible for a torrent. This of course, will increase your download speed. Some of the best are ScrapeTorrent.com and IsoHunt.com.
3. Decrease the number of active torrents. You should download/upload no more than 5-10 torrents at the same time (depending on your Internet connection speed; I found the best setting to be equal to your download speed, i.e. if you have an 8Mb/s connection, you should set it to 8, if 5Mb/s then 5, and so on). Too many active torrents will result in too many connections to other peers, which will slow down the total download and upload speed. Here’s how to change the setting in uTorrent (the best torrent client for any operating system, in my opinion):
Go to “Options->Preferences->Queueing” and set the “Maximum number of active torrents (download or upload)” to a number that equals your download speed (see explanation above).
4. Adjust the number of connections. Adjusting the total number of connections will increase your download speed, but can decrease it in the very rare cases when you download from a lot of peers who have a slow upload speed. This is why you need to find the best setting, not too high, not too low. By default, most torrent clients play it safe and set a low level, which makes torrents start slow and never reach the maximum speed.
I found that setting it according to your download speed gives the best result (and you don’t have to poke in the dark trying to find the best setting). So, for an 8Mb/s connection, you should set the “global maximum number” to 800, “Max number of peers per torrent” to 80 and “Max number of upload slots” to 8 – basically, 100, 10 and 1 for every Mbit you have. This may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. For example, here’s how to do it in uTorrent:
Go to “Options->Preferences->Bandwidth”, notice and set the three values in the “Number of Connections” category.
5. Set the upload speed to 60-75% of the maximum. This is a very good trick which works miracles. Theoretically, you should be able to upload and download at your maximum speeds, but in reality, if you reach the limit of your upload speed, your download speed goes down considerably. This has been noted by a lot of users all around the globe. Those who are affected are using ADSL modems, so the problem is most probably related to that technology.
If you have a 100Kb/s upload limit (which would amount to about 1Mb/m), you should set the global upload rate to 60-75Kbit/s to get the highest download speed. And if you really care about the other peers, you can set (at least in uTorrent) an alternate, unlimited upload speed to be used when you’re not downloading anything. This would be the best compromise.
To adjust the setting in uTorrent, go to “Options->Preferences->Bandwidth” and set the 2 values for “Global Upload Rate Limiting”. Zero means Unlimited, and I found the Automatic setting to be either too high or too low, so I prefer to do it manually.
That’s about all I can say. If you follow these tips you WILL get the fastest download speed possible. Also, I’d recommend getting uTorrent, it’s free and it’s the best client I’ve ever seen.