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What’s a “torrent”?

Question: What is a torrent file and can it be broken down to smaller files and recorded to CDs/DVDs?

Torrents, typically ending in “.torrent”, are control files for the peer-to-peer file sharing technology called BitTorrent.

It’s actually pretty cool technology that really just boils down to another way to download files. So really, you just use .torrent files to download other files.

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Torrents let you download big files in small pieces from multiple sources. A .torrent file guides your BitTorrent program on what to download and from where. As you download, you also share pieces with others, making the whole process faster for everyone. It’s efficient but can seem a bit technical at first.

BitTorrent is a distributed file distribution technology. Yes, “distributed distribution”. When you download a file using BitTorrent, the file is actually broken up into chunk that your BitTorrent client program then downloads and reassembles into the final file as the pieces arrive. To over-simplify, what makes it interesting are two things:

  • The different chunks you download can all be coming from different machines. A BitTorrent client will connect to many other BitTorrent clients and download several chunks at once, in random order. In the long run this makes the protocol fairly efficient, and very nicely scalable – the more BitTorrent clients that are serving up a given file, the faster other clients can download it.
  • As you start collecting chunks of the file, your BitTorrent client will start making those chunks available for downloading to other BitTorrent clients, and will become a part of the peer-to-peer file distribution network.

The “.torrent” file is simply the bootstrap for this whole process. You download that normally, for example in your web browser, and then it is read by your BitTorrent client. It has the information that the BitTorrent client then uses to begin to locate other BitTorrent clients that are serving up the file you’re interested in.

“Torrent” is sometimes used to refer to the file being shared using BitTorrent, but a “.torrent” file is a specific file with specific information that is used to bootstrap the file download.

Note I haven’t talked at all about what kinds of files are actually being downloaded. That’s because the answer is “any”. Typically the types of files being shared using BitTorrent are large – audio files, video files and programs. But just saying “a torrent” doesn’t tell you what it is or what you can do with it.

Let’s get concrete. Let’s say you’ve discovered that some “Public Domain Movie” is available via a torrent. You download the “.torrent” file, and open it in your BitTorrent client. It then goes out to the internet, locates other BitTorrent clients that are serving up that file, and begins downloading all the various chunks until it has a complete copy of the file. When it’s all done, you’ll end up with something like a “PublicDomainMovie.avi” file. Or “.mpg”, “.mov” or something else. What you then do with that file is up to you. Yep, you could burn that file to a CD or DVD, but that’s all something you would do after it’s downloaded, and has nothing to do with the fact that you got it via BitTorrent.

I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience with BitTorrent clients, so I can’t really recommend one over the other, but I have used Azureus successfully, and it seems to be one of the more popular BitTorrent clients. I will warn you that all of the BitTorrent clients I’ve seen to date are still in the “geeky” stage, meaning that they sort of assume you know what you’re doing to begin with. It’s not a steep learning curve, but it will seem pretty obscure at first.

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39 comments on “What’s a “torrent”?”

  1. “Most”? I have no idea. I do know that I downloaded my client from a reputable source, and have had zero problems.

    There are definitely spyware infested clients out there, especially in some of the other peer-to-peer filesharing services, so caution is definitely appropriate. But with appropriate caution and downloading only software you trust from sources you trust, you can stay safe.

  2. hi. what`s a peer?
    i just started downloading files usin azureus but the little face is red and it says “you are not connected to any peer while downloading”

  3. i downloaded a .torrent file but it wont work for any of my players (meaning iTunes, Windows Media Player, Quicktime, etc). What do i do?

    Hash: SHA1

    Torrents don’t play directly in players. You might want to
    re-read the article, and you’ll see it says “You download
    the “.torrent” file, and open it in your BitTorrent client.”



    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  5. I have just downloaded an .avi file using Azureus,
    but it can not be played by Real player. It says “this mediafile can only be played using Dom-X”. Is it a scam as considered on some sites ?

  6. You need to download a program like Winrar to read your files after you download them from your bittorrent (ie. utorrent). Winrar will extract them. Then, you can use them. Enjoy. To put them onto dvd’s, you need to download another program to convert the file into a DVD. I tried WinAvi and it didn’t work. I am now using ConvertXtoDVD and it works great. Have fun

  7. I find checking the downloads before unpacking them with WinRar is useless. The infections are archived into an otherwise legitimate file an go undetected until unpacked.

  8. I’m curious why you would recommend a BitTorrent client that uses Adware, when there are so many other clients that are free, without adware? btw, Azureus is now called Vuse.

  9. a great, simple to use program with FLAC files that are often downloaded with torrents to convert them to usable files is called Traders Little Helper. look for it in Google or similr search.

    as to infected files in zip or rar form, Norton Internet Security 2009 which I use can scan those types of files previous to unpacking. I can’t speak for other anti viral programs having that ability because I haven’t tried all that many.

  10. I ordered a disc from ebay that had daemon lite tools (4.12.2) and a winrar file. I finally figured out how to mount the images that I recieved on disc (Spanish latin america ver 3 lessons 1, 2, and 3) to the daemon and get them to work proper on my Rosetta (and yes I put the patch/hack in the rs folder so that I can use all of the lessons w/o activation. I am a computer idiot. I went to pirates bay and tried to download the torrents to the other languages and even though it said the file was like 16 gig it only took a couple of seconds and I dont know what to do. I really dont know how to get the languages I want to turn into an iso file so that I can mount it. Please help. I am a disabled marine without a lot of money. I dont get out of the house much anymore so I just try to keep my mind occupied with learning new languages. I was never trained in anything like this (damn 5711 (that was my mos)). Please someone help with detailed instructions. Or you could email me at with your phone number and I can call. I need help. If there are any Devil Dogs out there that can help I implore you do. Thank you for your time.

  11. What does it mean when a file seems to say its seeding; but when I go into my BitClient it is really slow or is not available? I found a few file like that but found it was still downloading after several hours?? Is it my connection speed or just the availability of the files?? Just curious thanks??

  12. I downloaded a 753mb movie from bittorrent & it downloaded it as a RAR file & having problems using a freware program called dvdconvert software to convert it to dvd format.
    Its all so confusing & not having mush success.

  13. Wait i don’t get this. I’ve downloaded bitcomet and winrar and my torrent file has finished downloading, but now it doesnt seem to be doing anything. It says uploading at 100%, but other than that it isn’t doing anything, help plz. ive been wanting to download this for ages now =(

  14. i downloaded a tv show with .torrent and evrything seemed fine but then a window popped up an said open, save or close an i chose save then it downloadid and know when it try to open it. it just tries to open in webpaige mode and then the same window comes up with save,close…..its like i saved a website not a show what should i do? btw i tried to dowload 3 times all diffrent shows but this always happens :(

    1. First Download Torrent file from any of the torrent webiste like
    2. Download a torrent client like uTorrent, or bitTorrent and many others like this.
    3. open, .torrent file that you downloaded form torrent webiste , in the torrent client uTorrent.
    4. Now wait as much time it take to download the original file and after that enjoy you download.

    Note: Download only those torrent files those have many seeders and peers (swarms) associated with it otherwise u will get very slow download speed or either no downloading speed at all.

  15. i have downloaded file from torrent however it only apears as torrent how can i play or view the video of the file? do i need to install winrar?

  16. It’s actually pretty cool technology that really just boils down to another way to download files. So really, you just use .torrent files to download other files.

  17. Em trying to understand the torrent thing. My question is; Is there a software that I have to install on my computer so that I can download in the torrent mode? And can all downloads be done in torrents, or its just files that will have been uploaded in torrent format?

  18. I just fonud about torrent files and this helped learn what they are but can they also transfer viruses from other compters?

  19. I downloaded a torrent, which led to downloading a Windows Media Player file, when I tried to open it with Windows Media Player it says downloading media usage rights and prompts me to download some other software called flv player. once I downloaded the flv player, the original file still wont play on either player. plz help?

  20. Answering questions

    Q – Can torrents transfer viruses?
    A – Yes, they can so make sure you have a good bittorent client that is not buggy and has some good trackers.

    Q – Do i need sofware to download the torrent files?
    A – no, you don’t need software to DOWNLOAD the files, but you need a bittorent client, such as bittorent to CONVERT the torrents to a useable format.

    Q – Copyright?
    A – Some files are illegal!!!! Try to make sure that you can see a copyright notice when downloading a torrent file.

    Hope that clears up any confusions.

    Written by a 12 year old. Visit my website!

  21. torrent is NOT used to transfer virus at all
    its a way 2 share+any fookl that has no virus program is also a tool!
    if iron man 3 starts at the cinema nex tuesday-+torrent comes up today then yu get what yu deserve-we are excellent torrent uploaders+dont spout crap-they do not spread virus unless yu are a total numpty!

  22. I downloaded a movie using utorrent but after it was downloaded it didnt play in my comp….”look for codec” was written in my mediaplayer classic……..and even after the download was complete it was seeding ……..What does seeding means….would be gratified if you could help

  23. P2P file sharing tools are software tool just like internet explorer, firefox, HTML downloaders and like many computer software programs do become subjected to computer virus or trojans, worms and wide spread hacking because of uploading of files for downloading,

    Hackers, government intelligents agencies and especially the music industries in America are deliberally manufactor computer viruses, trojans and worms within their own software, webpages and files that are up loaded all with one aim to destory the person computer who is downloading the file inorder to make the person pay for profitteering agencies, to get a person to buy new software and to spy, spy, spy on a private persons life.

    This in itself is break every government and internetal act world wide and courts in America and else where know this to be true and are gutless to act and Jail the music industries and others for the very laws they are jumping up and down about.

  24. if you already used a torrent like a windows vista torrent how would you undo it like delete it and go back to your old operating system?

  25. I think that today torrent sites is a very very usefull tool for low economical countries such as greece..people here don’t have enough money neither for basic needs or if they do,with very difficulty.Please Mr.Leo put some notes for the viewers in your site for helping greeks with these unique sites..

    Unfortunately your location or economic status doesn’t change the fact that downloading pirated software – however it’s done – is illegal. I can’t help with that.


  26. i am a demonoid user since more than 4 years now..

    one thing i have found out is the number of trackers attached to a torrent..

    if you are talking about speedy downloads of torrents.. you should also mention the number of trackers coz it will give consistency any a higher speed rate if any particular torrent site is busy or down..

    i have used TorrentsLibrary or TorrentsWave as the easiest

    you should also the process of adding tracker to your download file and finding them over othr torrent site

  27. Thanks for the article. It was very helpful for me to understand the torrent method of downloading files from the internet.

  28. The the greatest problem of writing industry. Expert uk essays online ( service must give you assurance that its papers are non-plagiarized.


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