How to Use BitTorrent to Download Files

January 22, 2009

in file transfer

by Tina Gasperson

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer protocol that enables the rapid download of large files from a vast online network of “peers” or computers. The BitTorrent protocol works by allowing users to seed a file, which means to make it available online along with a torrent file that identifies it and allows other peers to begin seeding the file as well. BitTorrent can be a very rapid way to download a large file because the more seeds there are, the more places there are from which to download the file.

BitTorrent slices the file into pieces and distributes those pieces between all seeding peers. So instead of having to download one large file from one computer, you can download the file in bits from dozens of other computers all at once. Once the file is on your hard drive, it fits back together and you can manipulate it as needed.

To use the BitTorrent protocol, you’ll need a Bittorrent client, which is an application that understands the protocol and helps you find and download seeded files. Wikipedia has a long list of some Bittorrent clients. Some of the most popular clients are uTorrent (for Windows), Transmission (for Mac), and Deluge (for Linux).

Once you’ve downloaded and installed a client, you will need a torrent file for the application or file you want to download via the Bittorrent protocol. Simply do a search on Google or another search engine for “torrents” and you’ll see that there are hundreds of places to find torrents for files of every different kind.

Be careful, though, because many people distribute torrents of copyrighted applications and files that are illegal to download. If you want to be sure that you’re not downloading illegal files, visit a site like LegalTorrents. This site distributes content licensed under the Creative Commons license, which means that you can freely distribute the content without fear of violating a copyright.

Legal Torrents

Legal Torrents

To begin downloading a file using the BitTorrent protocol, make sure your client is already installed. In your browser, download a torrent file by clicking on its link. Your Bittorrent client will open automatically and begin downloading the file. You can keep track of its progress if you like, or walk away and do something else. When you come back, your file will probably already be downloaded and ready to use, whether it is a movie, game, spreadsheet, or application.

Tina Gasperson (, affectionately known as Computer Lady by her family, has been writing about IT, home computing, and the Internet for more than a decade.