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BitTorrent Common Questions and Answers

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 12:45 pm

Recently BitTorrent, Inc. (the company behind the BitTorrent client, not the “owner” of the protocol, which is open) set up a website to explain or justify why BitTorrent (the protocol this time) is a “good thing.” Unfortunately, like any public-relations-based campaign, it’s full of feel-good but doesn’t have much in the way of education. Since I’m a firm believer that if you know about something it stops being scary, here’s a Q/A about BitTorrent that might explain a bit more than the fluff BT, Inc. is shoveling around.

What is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is a “P2P” (Peer-to-Peer) protocol that distributes files among peer downloaders. Files are broken down internally into tiny pieces, and as you download some pieces, you are simultaneously uploading pieces you already have to other users. By sharing pieces, everyone who is downloading receives the file faster than they could if there were only a single access point for everyone.

Isn’t it illegal?

Nope. People can do illegal things with it, just like people can use a hammer to drive a nail or bash a head. The protocol itself is perfectly legal and legitimate…as long as you don’t download a torrent with copyrighted files without the holder’s permission, you’re fine. (Truth is, most illegal file transfers don’t use BitTorrent anyway. A while back some Italian hacker used a software flaw to use my server to serve illegal files via IRC DCC transfers…if it weren’t for my server farm tech support crew helping me remove the installed DCC server and files, it could easily have bled me of all my bandwidth and gotten me in serious trouble with the law.)

Does it do nasty things to my system?

Nope. For some reason, a lot of people have the impression this tiny application takes over a computer, forcing it to do whatever the application wants. Nothing could be farther from the truth; indeed, most clients are actually just Python scripts, which can be read by anyone (although it looks a little like gobbelty-gook unless you know how to program in Python) and so they are easily audited. I’m not sure how this rumor got started, but it is quite prevalent among those who don’t understand BitTorrent.

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