This is a really, REALLY dumbed down guide. I mean, it really doesn't get any simpler than this. If you've ever been curious about torrenting but it all seemed way too complicated for you, this is your guide.
I'm not going to argue the legality of torrenting; you and I both know it's illegal to download copyrighted content without paying. Let's just assume we've had the talk already and you really don't care that it's illegal, you're gonna do it no matter what I say. Let's also assume that I agreed to write this guide so that you didn't dig yourself into a bigger hole than you already are by downloading illegally-acquired content. Finally, we're going to assume that you know literally nothing about how the internet works or any of that techno-babble. You're pretty adept at visiting facebook and posting on peoples' walls, but that's about it.
Where to even begin?
Good question. There's just SO MUCH information to give you so that you understand what each element is doing. The best thing to do is just dive right in and get you into a torrent client. A torrent client is a GUI (Graphic User Interface) or program that allows you to download files via torrent files and magnet links. For this guide, we'll be using qBittorrent, but you can use any client you like. There are dozens of clients out there.
Go ahead and install your torrent client. I'll be here.
Done? Cool. Did you make sure to automatically associate .torrent files with your client? Most automatically do that for you but it's still important to make sure. Anyways, let's continue.
Now that you've got your client downloaded and installed, go ahead and open it. It should look something like this:
Pretty simple interface, right? So how do we start downloading? You're going to need one of two things: a .torrent file, or a magnet link. But first, let's talk about P2P (Peer-to-Peer). NOTE: If you just want to know how to begin, skip to Part 2.
Peer-to-Peer is a term for a direct connection between one computer (or peer) to another, most commonly for the transference of data/files. Picture it like this. I own an apple orchard. You own an orange grove. You and I meet up, I fill up your bucket with apples, you fill mine with oranges. That is a form of a peer-to-peer network. It gets a bit more confusing though. I own an apple orchard, and I go to meet with you like normal ...Except this time there are 5 or 10 more orange grove owners there as well, and each one of you gives me an orange for my bucket. I still get my bucket full of oranges, but it was filled from many different sources. This is also a form of a Peer-to-Peer network. Expand it even further; Now I am one of 20 apple orchard owners, and you're one of 50 orange grove owners, and we're all exchanging fruit and filling buckets. You can imagine how confusing it would be to keep track of it all, but thankfully, you don't have to. Just understand that you are connecting with one or more people directly to get small pieces (the oranges) that eventually add up to a complete object (the full bucket). Still confused? Me too.
Now that we've talked about what a P2P network is, we can understand the concept behind a .torrent file.
A .torrent file is a set of instructions for your torrent client. Think of it like a web URL, like http://www.google.com. You know that the URL instructs your browser to go to Google. The same thing is happening here. the .torrent file is telling your client to look at specific places for the files you want. It also tells your client what files to look for and how big they should be and what trackers to use and also include any comments from the .torrent file creator. Sounds like a lot, right? Let's break that down.
You search and find the content you want. You download the .torrent file and open it in your client. When you do this, your client reads the file and says, "OK. You're looking for the file 'graduation_pics.zip', and I should connect to this tracker and ping it for those files. The tracker says that there are 6 seeds and 2 leechers. I'll attempt to connect to the seeds first and the leechers afterwards."
You're probably saying "That left me with more questions than it answered," and rightfully so. What is a tracker? What is a seed? What's a leecher? Do you see how confusing this all is?
A tracker is a web address that tags alongside all .torrent files. Your client is constantly talking to the tracker, telling it that you're currently downloading a torrent (leeching), or uploading a torrent (seeding). This adds you to the statistics and all other clients can see the increments. If you are the only person uploading a file, the tracker will show [1 Seed | 0 Leechers]. If you're the only person uploading and someone is downloading it, you'll see [1 Seed | 1 Leecher]. See how it works? It's not throwing your name out there for the world to see; it's just displaying a number to show you exist. When a client pings (asks) the tracker for information on a torrent, the tracker shows the number of connections and also tells the client where to connect to. Then your client makes the connection and the download starts.
A seed is a computer that has the completed file(s) and is actively uploading it. These are ideal because you can be certain all of the content is available. *Usually* seeds will limit their upload rate to prevent latency on their bandwidth (many users torrent while doing other things online and it can slow down your internet). As such, your client will connect to many different seeds to get the content as fast as it can. The more seeds available, the faster your download will be (there are some other factors to consider but this is just a generalization).
A leech is a computer/user that is actively downloading the content. Once you start to download the files from a torrent, you become a leech. Once you finish downloading, you become a seed (until you remove the torrent or close the client). You CAN download files from leeches; by the same token, you also are uploading while being a leech. It is possible to download a complete file from a torrent with zero seeds and only leeches, so long as the availability of content is there. To give an example, Bobby wants the Harry Potter series. I have books 1-4, you have books 5-7. Nobody has the complete set but Bobby can get some of the series from me and some of the series from you and then he has a complete series.
Please tell me I covered everything...
Part 1 Ending Summary
Alright, so we learned about all the different terms used in the Torrenting scene and how they all work. In Part 2, we'll talk about torrent blocks and also how to actually download files.