Bittorrent is a technology that allows people to share large files between each other more quickly and efficiently than downloading from a central server or website.
For a quick and excellent visual overview, watch this video about how bittorrent works:
Imagine building a house. Typically a contractor is hired and has several workers building the house for a few weeks or months. But now imagine if a swarm of 1000’s of workers descended on your empty lot and each did one task and provided one piece of material to build the house, all at the same time. Setting aside the impractical realities of that in the physical world, your house would be built in a day, or perhaps even in an hour.
That’s basically how bittorrent functions, but in the digital world. It’s millions of people all swapping pieces of files at the same time directly with each other instead of downloading from a central server or website.
A typical file transferred over bittorrent is sort of chunked into dozens, hundreds, or thousands of pieces. When you connect and download a file via bittorrent, you connect directly to other people who all send a different chunk your way. At the same time, you’re sending chunks to other people who needed. It’s a highly efficient collective process automated by bittorrent protocol/technology.
The process goes like this:
- You start by downloading a small “kickstarter” file called a torrent file. It has all the necessary information to get things going and looks like myawesomevides.torrent
- You load that .torrent file to a bittorrent client/software (uTorrent, Vuze, Transmission, etc.).
- The software you’re using sends out a signal to what’s called a “tracker”, which helps your software start seeking out other people who have the file you want, and it also helps manage the whole process.
- Either instantly or after a little bit, your bittorrent software starts connecting to other people and the file transfer process begins. Those chunks of data are being gathered from, and subsequently shared to, other bittorrent users who either are downloading the same file or who already have the whole thing.