20 Essential Tricks and Skills Every BitTorrent User Should Know

norman

Every week, we're going to spotlight a popular program or service and show you how to grab hold of the reigns and get the most out of what you're doing. We already kicked off the series with guides to tweaking Outlook and Firefox , and today we turn our attention to BitTorrent.

BitTorrent, as you're probably already aware, is a decentralized peer-to-peer file sharing protocol ideal for transferring large files (and if you didn't know that, don't worry, we also include some lightweight tips to get you started). In a nutshell, the way it works is when you're downloading a massive file -- like a Linux distribution, for example --bits and pieces of the file will be uploaded at the same time. Typically BitTorrent allows for a more efficient and faster transfer method than traditional, Direct Connect P2P software.

To get started, you need a desktop client. We recommend using uTorrent , or uT for short. We prefer uTorrent based on its combination of advanced features, performance, and small footprint -- in other words, it has all the makings of a power user program.

On the following pages, we'll not only show you how to get the most out of uTorrent, but out of BitTorrent in general. We'll cover both basic and advanced tips, and then toss in some of our favorite third-party add-ons for good measure. Whether you're new to BitTorrent or a seasoned vet, there's something in this guide for you.


Know the Lingo

Before diving head first into the world of BitTorrent, take some time to familiarize yourself with the protocol's language. For example, do you know the difference between a tracker and a leecher? Why are leechers frowned upon, and how can you avoid becoming one? These are just some of the terms you'll need to know as you traverse the BitTorrent universe. Here's your handy cheat sheet:


Image Credit: lili.org

Torrent: Lazy linguists sometimes substitute Torrent in place of BitTorrent, but it actually has a definition all its own. A torrent is a small metadata file usually just a few kilobytes in size. It contains information about the file(s) you're trying to download, such as file names, file sizes, where to download, and so forth. The torrent file (.torrent) is not the actual data you're trying to retrieve.

Peer : Any other computer on the Internet which is both downloading and uploading portions of a file at the same time.

Leech(er) : There are two meanings for this one. The most common definition of a leech is someone who disconnects and stops sharing a file as soon as they've obtained a complete copy. The fewer people there are sharing a file, the longer it takes to download, and for this reason, leeching is highly discouraged.

Peers who haven't finished downloading a file are also referred to as leechers, but not necessarily in a derogatory way.

Seed(er): It's good etiquette to continue sharing a file even after you've finished downloading the entire torrent, if only for a short while. This practice is known as seeding.

Reseed: When no more seeds exist for a particular file, then anyone who was actively trying to download it will be unable to finish. A reseeder is someone who has the completed torrent, reconnects to the swarm, and saves the day.

Swarm: Any group of users connected to each other for downloading and/or sharing a particular file.This includes peers, seeds, and leeches.

Tracker: A central server which stores the torrents, coordinates the action of all the seeders, peers, and leechers, and manages the connections. The Pirate Bay (TPB) is the largest tracker on the Internet and often the center of media attention due to ongoing legal issues. Not all trackers are public; there are several private trackers which require a membership.

Share Rating / Ratio: This refers to the ratio of uploaded data divided by downloaded data and is applicable only for the current session. A share rating of 1.0 means you've uploaded the same amount of data as you've downloaded.

Where to Find Torrents

Let’s address the 900lb gorilla right off the bat. Not everyone uses BitTorrent for, ahem, legitimate reasons, and for them, there are plenty of less scrupulous tracking sites littered all over the Web. You know the ones, because they’re usually tangled in high-profile legal proceedings. Let us be clear: We don’t condone software piracy, even if we don’t’ always agree with the DRM measures paying customers have to put up with.

So where you can find legal torrents? As it turns out, there are a handful of resources serving up free and unrestricted content. These include:

www.legaltorrents.com – specializes in “high quality open-licensed (Creative Commons) digital media and art.”  Several membership tiers are available, including one that’s free and comes with unlimited access to all content and custom feeds by email and RSS.

www.legittorrents.info – a no fuss tracking site serving up a variety of free and legal torrents ranging from Podcasts to Release Candidate software.

http://linuxtracker.org – just like it sounds, this is the go-to tracker for all things Linux.

www.publicdomaintorrents.com – deals entirely with films that are no longer copyrighted, many of which come optimized for mobile devices.

http://bt.etree.org – an awesome resource for music lovers, bt.etree includes a ton of live concert recordings from trade friendly artists.

In addition to dedicated torrent sites, many software publishers -- especially in the Linux community – include torrents in their downloads section. In many cases, you’ll find it’s much faster to download a Linux distro or mammoth game demo by downloading via BitTorrent instead of HTTP.

Manage Torrents Remotely

One way to access uTorrent from a remote location is to install a desktop login client like LogMeIn, which gives you access to your PC through a Web interface. But if you're only interested in controlling uTorrent while away from home and not your desktop, there's a way you can do that. After installing and configuring uTorrent's WebUI, you'll have access to all of your BT downloads along with the ability to add or remove torrents. Here's how to set it up.

Download the latest version of WebUI from here (see here if the download link is broken). Bear in mind that this is a beta release, meaning instability could rear its ugly head, although we never ran into any problems. Rename the downloaded file to webui.zip .

We need to place the webui.zip file in the same location as uTorrent's settings.dat file. In Windows 7, navigate to C:\Users [USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming\uTorrent . In earlier versions of Windows, the correct path should be C:\Documents and Settings\[USERNAME]\Application Data\uTorrent . If you can't find it, or the directory doesn't exist, perform a search for settings.dat.

If you're running a portable version of uTorrent (and we'll show you how do that later), you'll find the settings.dat file in the uTorrent.exe folder.

The next step is to enable WebUI in the uTorrent client. Go to Options>Preferences and you should now see a WebUI entry. Click on it, then put a check in the Enable WebUI checkbox. Enter in a username and password and check Enable Guest account with username. Hit Apply, but don't exit out just yet.

If you don't remember the port number you used to configure port forwarding earlier, go back into the Connection tab and make note of it once again. We're going to need this in the next step.

Let's test out if you followed the steps correctly. Open up your browser and type http://localhost:PORT/gui/ and substitute the port number from above where it says PORT. Once you enter in your username and password, you should be in the WebU's interface.

Of course, the whole point of this is to manage your BT downloads from a remote location and not from the same PC you installed uTorrent on. You'll need to know your IP address, which you can retrieve from sites like WhatIsMyIP.com and myIPaddress.com . Use your IP address to login remotely, substituting it in place of localhost. So for example if your IP address is 12.34.56.789 and the port you recorded earlier was 12121, you would type in http://12.34.56.789:12121/gui/ .

Note that this isn't likely to work by trying to access your client PC from within your home network. Instead, you'll need the IP address assigned by your router. For example, http:192.168.1.133:12121/gui/ . You can find your PC's internal IP by opening up the Command Prompt (Start>Run>CMD) and typing ipconfig . Make note of the IPv4 Address.

Make Your Own Torrents

Wondering how you're going to send that HD video you took of your vacation to family and friends? Or what about all those pictures you snapped at the LAN party last week? For these and other situations where you're dealing with large files, or a large collection of files, BitTorrent can be the best way to distribute them to others, provided you're dealing with an at least a semi computer-savvy bunch (in other words, you may want to just burn and send Aunt Mabel and Uncle Fred a DVD).

Creating a torrent isn't at all complicated and is probably much easier than you think. If you're using uTorrent -- and we recommend you do -- go to File>Create new Torrent, or mash CTRL+N.

In the pop-up window that appears, click the Add File button if you're dealing with a single file, or Add Directory if you have a folder full of files you want to share. Next you need to pick out an active tracker. A website called the Beehive maintains a list of active trackers that have been checked every 24 hours, and you can reference that list here . Once you have a tracker picked out, copy and past the URL into the Trackers box. Next, click the Start seeding checkbox, and press the "Create and save as..." button.

Before you can share your torrent with anyone, you first need to upload it to whatever torrent tracking site you picked out earlier. Most tracking sites require that you register with them before you're allowed to upload. Once you've done that, navigate to the site's upload section and add your torrent.

Now all that's left is to share your torrent with your friends and family. You can use the link provided by the tracking site, or just email the ultra-small torrent file, which should only be between 10KB to 20KB. Don't forget to seed!

Hire Others to do Your Heavy Lifting

BT downloads put a heavy strain on your Internet connection and can saturate both your upstream and downstream bandwidth. But there's an alternative to using BitTorrent the traditionally way.

There are several sites wiling do the dirty work for you and download the torrent data right to their servers, at which point you can access it just like any other HTTP download. Furk.net is one such example and offers free access to several already-hosted torrents. For a fee, Furk.net will let you upload torrent, download multiple files at the same time, uncap your download speed, and some other perks. If a BitTorrent client isn't an option, this is the next best thing.

Prioritize BitTorrent Traffic

With BitTorrent downloads and uploads barreling through your Internet connection at full bore, you may find that your speedy broadband connection has been saturated, reminding you of what it was like surfing the Web on a 56K modem. Ideally, BT traffic would run blazing fast when nothing else is going on, but yield to everything else. That's where your router's QoS (Quality of Service) settings come in.


Image Credit: techimo.com

Open up your browser and type 192.168.1.1 in the address bar. Enter your username and password when prompted (consult your router's manual if you don't know what this is). Once inside your router's GUI, click on Applications & Gaming>QOS. Click the Enable radio button , and then scroll down to the first blank box titled Application Name. Type uTorrent, Azureus, or whatever BT client you're running. Set the Priority to Low or Lowest and enter in the port number as configured in your BT client. HIt save and exit.

Some routers offer more fine grain QoS control than others, and certain third party firmware -- like Tomato -- offers a plethora of tweaking options. Getting into the intricacies of QoS settings goes beyond the scope of this guide, but if the options are there to play with, try experimenting with different settings.

Kickstart Downloads that Stall at 99 Percent Finished

Remember that scene in Happy Gilmore where Adam Sandler yells at his golf ball, "Why don' you just go home? That's your home! Are you too good for your home?," right after narrowly missing a putt? That's the same frustration you'll feel after investing an afternoon to downloading a mega-sized torrent, only to have it hang at 99 percent complete. So close, and so maddening!


Image Credit: D-Link

There are a few reasons why this might happen. If you own a router with a Game Mode, it could be scrambling the packets so that your torrent fails the hash check. It's a bit more technical than that, and it's pretty rare for this to happen, but it does occur. Try disabling your router's Game Mode and see if the download is able to finish.

The person who created the torrent may have inadvertently included a hidden system file -- thumbs.db, for example --which can prevent your download from reaching 100 percent. In other cases, the stubborn file could be corrupt, and it may be something you can do without, such as a readme.txt file. To see which file is causing all the commotion, click on the Files tab on bottom portion of uTorrent. Right-click the problematic file and select Don't Download.

Some hard-to-finish downloads are simply the result of not enough seeds or peers. In this case, your only options are to wait in hopes that a seeder will sign on, or find a more popular torrent and start over. Your torrent could also be corrupt, in which case you'll also need to find an alternative source.

Is that uTorrent in Your Pocket, or Are You...Oh, it is uTorrent!

There's an easy way to add uTorrent to your repertoire of portable apps so you can lug the client around on your USB key or any number of portable devices (like your iPod). The first thing you need to do is download the latest client ( here ) and copy it to your USB thumb drive or other storage device.

Next, create a new notepad file and save it as settings.dat . If you're unable to change the file extension from .txt to .dat, open up My Computer, press ALT+T, and select Folder Options. Click the View tab and uncheck 'Hide empty drives in the Computer folder.' Copy the settings.dat file over to the same directory on your USB drive as uTorrent and you're good to go!

Open Up Access Through Your Router and Firewall

Don't despair if you can't seem to connect to any seeders or peers, or if your downloads always trudge along at a snail's pace even when there are a ton of seeders. You probably just need to configure port forwarding for your uTorrent client, or whatever BitTorrent client you're using.

In a nutshell, port forwarding is a way for your router to forward IP addresses from an external location -- in this case, seeders and peers -- to an internal address, which is your PC. To find out which port uTorrent is trying to use, click on Options>Preferences>Connection. Make sure that both the 'Enable UPnP port mapping' and 'Enable NAT-PMP port mapping' checkboxes are marked. While you're in there, you can also check 'Add Windows firewall exception,' or we can do this manually later. Take note of the number next to the 'Random Port' button.

Now that you know the port number, it's time to configure your router. Access your router's administrative controls by firing up your Web browser and typing 192.167.1.1 into the address bar and hit enter.You'll be prompted for your username and password, which will vary depending on your router make and model. Try typing admin in both fields, or leaving the password field blank. If that doesn't work, you'll need to consult your router's manual or online support site for specific instructions.

You should now be in your router's control panel. We're using the customized Tomato firmware for our Linksys router, so yours will probably look different than our screen grab above. If you're using a Linksys router, click on Applications & Gaming>Port Range Forward (once again, if you're using a different router, consult your documentation on how to find the port forwarding section). Choose a blank row and type uTorrent in the Application field. Type the port number number you recorded earlier in both the Start and End fields. Change the protocol to Both (TCP and UDP), and be sure to check the Enable box. Save and exit.

Slow or non-existent connections could also mean your firewall is blocking access. To manually create an exception for uTorrent, click on the Start menu and type in Firewall. Click on Action and select New Rule, which will bring up the New Rule Wizard. Select Program as the Rule Type and hit Next, then click the Browse button to find and enter the path to your uTorrent client ( C:\Program Files (x86)\uTorrent \uTorrent.exe by default). Keep the default settings as you click through the Wizard.

Set Bandwidth Limits and Maintain a Reasonable Ratio

Left unchecked, uTorrent and every other BitTorrent client will consume all the bandwidth it can and bog down your Internet connection in the process. That's okay if you're heading off to bed, but during the day, you'll feel as though you traveled back in time to the days of dial-up.To prevent this happening, we need to set bandwidth limits.

Select Preferences from the Options menu, or press CTRL+P, and then click on Bandwidth. Everything is laid out pretty logically, so it's just a matter of filling in the blanks. Uploads and downloads are measured in kilobytes per second (kB/s), and if you want to leave these at unlimited, choose 0. Otherwise, set limits that work for your Internet connection.

To help take into account overhead, we recommend measuring your real-world broadband speed at SpeedTest.net. Use your SpeedTest results to help determine how much bandwidth you want to fork over to BitTorrent.

You may be tempted to allocate very little upload bandwidth to BitTorrent, but this isn't necessarily a good idea. Remember how your mother always told you it's better to give than it is to receive? The same concept applies to BitTorrent, at least in part. The whole concept of BitTorrent is built around the idea that everyone shares and you should strive to upload as much as you download.

Rather than constantly keep an eye on your share ratio, you can configure uTorrent to automatically adjust the amount of bandwidth to allocate to a file once a set ratio has been met. To do this, go back into Preferences and click on Queuing. In the Seed While section, set whatever ratio you're comfortable with. Check the 'Limit the upload rate to' box and choose 0 if you want to stop seeding once you've reached your goal.

Use RSS Feeds with BitTorrent

Several BT clients now come with integrated RSS support. That's great news, because BitTorrent and RSS makes keeping up with your favorite TV shows or Podcasts super easy. Once again, we're going to assume you're using uTorrent.

First, you need to figure out which RSS feed(s) you want to subscribe to. There are a lot of resources out there, including ezRSS.it and LegalTorrents.com . Once you've picked out a (legal) feed, open up uTorrent and right-click the RSS icon next to All Feeds in the left-hand column. Select 'Add RSS Feed...' and enter in the feed's URL. Under Subscription, you can choose whether or not to automatically download all items published in the feed. We're going to leave this unchecked.

Depending on the feed you subscribed to, you may have signed up to much more than you bargained for. We're not interested in all of these, and luckily, there's a way to fix this and cut back the cruft. Right-click an episode you are interested in watching and select Add to Favorites.

Click on Options>RSS Downloader, or press CTRL+R. Under the Favorites tab, click on your RSS feed. This brings up the RSS Downloader window. Click on the RSS feed under the Favorites tab. In the Quality drop-down menu, select whichever formats you're interested in, keeping in mind that you can choose more than one. Click the Smart ep. filter checkbox to make sure you don't end up downloading duplicate copies, and if applicable, check the Episode Number box to define which seasons and episodes you're interested in.

Any new episodes in your feed should now start downloading automatically.

Circumvent ISP Throttling with SSH

Do you suspect your ISP is putting the brakes on Bittorrent traffic? You can avoid this practice by making an end-run around your ISP and connecting with a Secure Shell (SSH) connection. Be warned that this most likely isn't a permanent solution, which we'll get to in a just a moment.

You're going to need an SSH account to start things off, and that's going to be the trickiest part. There are a lot of free shell providers out there, but most of them place strict restrictions on what you can do with them. You're going to have to do some digging to find one that won't frown on tunneling BitTorrent traffic, they may require a donation, and you could end up waiting several days for your account to be approved. You can start your search here .

Once you have an SSH account, download and install Putty, and then run the app. Make sure the SSH radio button is selected. Type in your SSH account information (Host name or IP addy and port).

Next, expand the Connection tree and select SSH>Tunnels. Enter in any available port number. Mash the Open button and enter in the username and password given to your by your SSH provider.

Open up uTorrent and navigate to Options>Preferences>Connection. Under Proxy Server, select Socks4 from the pull-down menu. Type localhost in the Proxy field and enter in your port number from above. Click Apply and then restart uTorrent.

Transfer Torrents to another Location

Maybe you're running out of space on your hard drive, or perhaps you're wanting to do some spring cleaning and organize your data. Whatever the reason might be, transferring your torrents from one spot to another is pretty quick and painless, once you know how.

Stop any downloads that are in progress by right-clicking and selecting Stop, or hitting the big red Stop button in uTorrent's menu bar. Next, right-click the torrent(s) and select Advanced>Set Download Location... Navigate to the new download spot and click Save, but don't change the file name.

See how easy that was? All that's left is to highlight the torrent(s) and mash the green Play button. uTorrent will check the files to see how much is left to be downloaded, so just be patient whie it does its thing.

Transfer Torrents to uTorrent

So you decided to take our advice and ditch your current BT client for uTorrent. The only problem is, you've already invested a ton of time into downloading a bunch of large Linux distros, and the last thing you want to do is start from scratch. You're in luck, because you can have your cake and eat it too (what else would you do with it?).

In this example, we're going to show you how to migrate one or more partial BT downloads from Vuze (formerly Azureus) to uTorrent. The first thing you need to do is figure out where Vuze is storing the downloaded data. By default, this will be C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents \Azureus Downloads . If that directory doesn't exist, go to Tools>Options>Files to find out where Vuze is hiding your data.

Stop any downloads that are currently in progress and close out Vuze. Open up uTorrent and select Options>Preferences>Directories and follow these steps:

  1. Check the 'Put new downloads in' checkbox and create or select a folder to store downloads in progress (we created a directed called 'Downloads' on our Desktop).
  2. Check the 'Move completed downloads to' checkbox and create or select a folder to store your finished downloads (we created a folder called 'Completed' inside the Downloads folder).
  3. Check the 'Automatically load .torrents from' checkbox and create or select a folder to store your torrent files (we created a folder called 'Autoload' on our Desktop).
  4. Click Apply and close out uTorrent.

Next, navigate to C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\Azureus Downloads or wherever it is Vuze was storing your partial downloads. Move (don't copy) the data to the directory you specified in Step 1 above. Note that some clients, including Vuze, will sometimes add an extension to unfinished downloads. If that's the case, you'll need to remove it or else it could trip up uTorrent.

If you still have the original .torrent file that was used to initiate the download, move it (don't copy) to the Autoload folder you created in Step 3 above. If you don't have it, you'll need tor re- download the original .torrent and put it in the Autoload folder. Once the .torrent file is in place, fire up uTorrent, and after a few seconds, your download(s) will initialize and pick up where they left off in Vuze.

Setup an Automated Throttling Schedule

We're not too keen on having our ISP choke our BitTorrent bandwidth, but that doesn't mean we're entirely opposed to throttling. We just want it to occur on our own terms, not someone else's. Fortunately for us, uTorrent's built-in Scheduler makes this super easy. With the Scheduler, we can configure uTorrent to automatically kick on at night when we're fast asleep. That way, we'll have all the bandwidth we need during the day, and still wake up to a finished download in the morning.

To set up a schedule, go to Options>Preferences>Scheduler. Click the 'Enable Scheduler' checkbox, which will light up the grid in green. There's a handy legend right below the grid that tells you what the colors mean, but to reiterate, dark green boxes tell uTorrent to download and upload at full speed, light green boxes tell uTorrent to only use a set amount of bandwidth (which you can configure), the white box is used to indicate when you want uTorrent to remain idle, and the light gray box tells uTorrent to seed (upload) only.

Because we work during the day and do a ton of Web surfing to research awesome stories and features for our homepage, we want to uTorrent to go into a state of comatose during working hours. We also like to unwind and frag our friends after a full day of work, and that can sometimes last until late at night. So to play it safe, we're giving uTorrent the green light (literally) to do its thing from 1AM until 8AM, but not during any other hours.

As you highlight a square, it will tell you what 1-hour time slot it is for. To save time, you can click and drag multiple squares rather than clicking each one individually. Once you're finished, you should have something that resembles the above.

Add One-Click BitTorrent Downloads to Firefox's Reportoire

Don't feel like fussing with BitTorrent clients every time you want to download a BT file? You don't have to! One of the coolest extensions for Firefox is FireTorrent .

With FireTorrent installed, just click on a .torrent file and Firefox will download the related data files just like a normal download and even show you the progress in the Download Manger. And if you'd rather let a third-party handle a particular .torrent, just right-click and select Save Link As.

FireTorrent isn't nearly as robust as most third-party BT clients, but you are afforded some basic options, including which port to use, download and upload bandwidth allocation, the ability to encrypt BT connections, and a few other light-weight customizations. It's barebones, but it gets the job done!

Update uTorrent Remotely with a Single Click

The BitTorrent WebUI add-on for Firefox combines the one-click sex appeal of FireTorrent with the WebUI capabilities we set up earlier. Once configured, all you need to do is click on a torrent and this add-on will update your BT client at a remote location, provided you're using either uTorrent or Vuze.

Follow our instructions earlier on how to setup uTorrent with WebUI. Next, install the BitTorrent WebUI add-on available here and configure it with the same settings you used to setup uTorrent's WebUI.

Now all you need to do is find some torrents and start clicking!

Block Malicious IPs

Tinfoil hats tend to chaffe our head and freak out our co-workers, which are pretty big trade-offs for a little bit of peace of mind. But there's a better way to protect our privacy from prying IPs. PeerGuardian 2 is an IP blocker for Windows that integrates support for mulitple lists, automatic updates, and blocks a bunch of protocols. It keeps a constantly updated list of blacklisted IPs known to track your P2P activity.

If you're a real conspiracy theorist, PG 2 gives you plenty of options to keep the establishment from building a database about your online activity. Checking the P2P box should be enough for most users, but if you're convinced you're the center of the BT universe, go ahead and mash your mouse button on every checkbox.

You can also configure an update schedule for PG 2 to make sure you're always one step ahead of the man. And for more than you ever wanted to know about this program, reference the extensive Wiki here.

Supercharge Windows XP for Faster Uploads

If you decided to stick with XP for a little while longer, you're not just missing out on what Windows 7 has to offer, but you could be hamstringing your download speeds. That's because Windows XP limits the number of TCP connections to no more than 10, which could prevent you from hooking up with a larger number of peers. So should you upgrade to Windows 7? Yes, but not because of the TCP limit.

A German programmer developed a nifty little patch that removes the 10 TCP limitation so you can set it at whatever number you want. Download the patch here , then fire up uTorrent and navigate to Options>Preferences>Advanced and look for net.max_halfopen.

Trick Out uTorrent with Skins

For all of its functionality, uTorrent isn't much to look. And maybe that's right up your alley, but if not, there's a wealth of skins to experiment with until you find one that look that's just right. And you can skin different parts of uTorrent individually, inculding toolbars, status icons, tab icons, and program icons.

Download your skin(s) from here and place them in C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Roaming\uTorren t. Restart uTorrent and enjoy your new look!

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