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
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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
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.