(Legal Disclaimer: Doing crime is illegal. P2P file sharing and torrenting are a data distribution method, and that means the data being distributed isn’t inherently copyright violating, like any other kind of file sharing. This post is for informational and educational purposes only. I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I am not responsible for the use of this information.)

I’m writing this to help folks who want to use torrents, but don’t know how to do that, nor how to do it as safely as possible. I intend for this to be simple enough to follow with little experience, but also give a good understanding of the process to make it easier to stay safe.

I simplified a lot of these concepts, and that’s on purpose.

Torrenting is a file sharing process that involves multiple computers hosting a copy of the same file, allowing other computers to take pieces from all of them, until a full copy is obtained. This makes it very hard for the file to be removed from the internet, like how it could if it were hosted on a traditional file hosting website.

You’ll first need a torrent client:

I use qBittorrent, because my VPN has documentation for an ideal setup, including cutting off the connection when the VPN drops. This client is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. There are other BitTorrent clients, but qBittorent doesn’t have ads and is open source. Transmission is another, much simpler client.

μTorrent isn’t here, because it’s full of ads, tried sneaking in a cryptocurrency miner in 2015, and isn’t actually that good at all.

https://www.qbittorrent.org/download.php
https://transmissionbt.com/

The next thing you’ll need is a no-log VPN:

A VPN tunnels your connection through to another computer, which connects to the internet for you. Torrenting reveals the IP address you’re using, and if that’s on a connection associated with you, it can be used by a group in power to tell your ISP to reveal your identity. A VPN makes it harder for this to happen.

Do not disconnect from your VPN while you have your torrent client open. If you can get your torrent client, or even your entire computer, to lose its internet connection when the VPN drops, you should do this.

You have to trust your VPN provider to not be collecting logs or snooping. You can’t guarantee they aren’t doing this, so you have to go off of what’s known to work. Most providers are legally required to turn over logs, so you don’t want them to have any.

VPNs are usually around the cost of a single streaming service. Don’t trust free VPNs.

I’ve used this one personally, and it’s worked for me. They have a guide on how to setup qBittorrent precisely (including preventing the client from connecting without the VPN running):

https://mullvad.net/en/
https://mullvad.net/en/help/bittorrent/

I also asked others for the ones they’ve used, and in addtion to more recommendations for Mullvad, I got the following:

https://airvpn.org/
https://www.azirevpn.com/
https://www.ivpn.net/

Remember: Do not use Tor for torrenting, both because it slows down the Tor network, and certain torrent clients will leak your IP address. Tor has a different use-case. If you don’t know what Tor is, you don’t have to worry about this.

Each of these services should have guides on how to set them up.

There are a couple ways of using bittorrent. There are ‘.torrent’ files, and magnet links. There is a difference between these, but what you need to know is that ‘.torrent’ files are downloaded to begin the file sharing, and magnet links can start the file sharing without a download. You can use either of these, if your client supports both.

Once you’re ready to torrent, you’ll probably want a torrent site, called a ‘tracker.’ These are the websites and servers you get the ‘.torrent’ files and magnet links from, as well as share to. There are public and private trackers, and you can find a lot of popular public ones.

There are lots of educational articles out there listing some of the most used torrent sites of the current year, such as this one:

https://torrentfreak.com/top-10-most-popular-torrent-sites-of-2020-200105/

Once you have the ‘.torrent’ file, you can load it into your torrent client, similarly to how you would with other software. Web browsers should ask you what to open magnet links with when you click them, and you can select your client.

When selecting your files to download, you’re going to want to look at the amount of ‘seeders’ and ‘leechers.’

This is how you can estimate if a file is safe and legit, as well as how fast your download will be.

‘Seeders’ are the computers sharing the file. The higher this number, the more likely it is that the file is what it appears to be (because seeding is an active sharing process, not a number of hits), and the quicker the download might be (more computers sharing at once).

‘Leechers’ are the computers downloading (and sharing the bits they already have of) the file. Once you finish leeching, you’ll want to leave your torrent client open, so others can leech too.

Your torrent client will show a ‘seed ratio.’ If this number is ‘0,’ you’ve shared no amount of the file. If this is ‘1,’ you’ve shared the same amount of data as you’ve downloaded. This can go as high as you’d like, but you should at least seed to ‘1,’ because this is how torrents stay alive. I try to seed to at least ‘2.’ Seeding torrents is praxis.

What if you want to share your own files?

Most torrent clients have a function for this, but it will vary depending on the client. qBittorrent has it under ‘Tools > Torrent.’ You will need to select the file you want to share.

You’ll probably want to fill out a section labeled ‘Tracker URLs,’ or similar. These are the same websites you get your torrents from, but the URLs you need are a little different. They might look like this, and you can lookup lists of them: ‘http://open.tracker.website.tld/announce,’ ‘udp://open.tracker.website.tld/announce.’ You can probably add just a few, but there’s no hard limit. You don’t need to add dozens.

You’ll want to have ‘DHT/PEX’ checked while creating a torrent, because this will allow it to function independent of trackers. Basically, it lets peers (other computers) that are seeding a public torrent, directly connect you to other peers.

Now, you just need to give out the ‘.torrent’ file you made, and other can begin downloading from you. This file can also be uploaded to torrent sites that you have an account on. If you want to make yourself harder to identify (which you should do, because your privacy is important), you will want to use account details that can’t be associated with you.

This is a great way of sharing files, especially if you and others need to keep something online.

I hope this guide helped you understand torrents, and how to begin using them.