It’s not exactly news that using BitTorrent is risky, but you can minimize the danger by picking the right torrent clients and using them alongside a VPN. Today, we make recommendations for both, plus equip you with the knowledge you need to stay safe when downloading torrent files.
There are many ways one can go about downloading files off the Internet. The most common is probably the HTTP download that happens whenever you download a file from a website. It could be some free software or a trial version of a paid one. Before web downloads were popular—and even before the web existed—the File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, was the standard way of downloading files. Usenet was another way of exchanging files that once enjoyed a lot of popularity and that has recently made a comeback.
But one of the most used ways of exchanging files on the Internet nowadays is probably the BitTorrent protocol. Often simple called Torrents or Torrenting, it is a peer to peer system that distributes small fragments of files over multiple hosts. Using it requires a special piece of software called a BitTorrent client which can track the various fragments, download them, and assemble them back into the original file.
We’ll start off our exploration by explaining what BitTorrent is and how it works, trying to keep our discussion as non-technical as possible. Then, we’ll have a quick look at the legal aspects of using the system as there seem to be some misconceptions going around. After that, we’ll present the much-awaited reviews of some of the best client applications we could find.
BitTorrent In A Nutshell
Torrents, or more precisely BitTorrent, is a communication protocol used to share files between a group of users. Contrary to most other file transfer methods, it does not rely on servers to hold the content. It is rather distributed among all the users. The protocol was created in 2002 as a way of distributing the open-source Linux operating system. It is still widely used for that purpose.
Nowadays, there are literally dozens of torrent client software available and it has become the number one method for downloading files in general, not just Linux. In fact, more than half of all the file transfers on the Internet are done through torrents.
How does BitTorrent Work?
BitTorrent is what’s referred to as a peer-to-peer protocol with every user not only fetching content but also sharing content. This is great, one could interject, but how do we find anything, then? This is where a special kind of server comes into play. The servers are called BitTorrent Trackers and they keep track of all the file segments that are available from each of the connected peers.
The beauty—and the magic—of torrents is that all this complexity is hidden from the user. You simply need to start your torrent software and it connects automatically to nearby peers and trackers. The software automatically shares all its local file segments information with the peers and trackers, making them available. This is important because it is central to BitTorrent’s operation. Files are hosted and shared on each user’s computer. There is, therefore, constant traffic in and out of any user’s computer.
In order to find and download a specific file, torrent users use indexing sites. Among the better-known ones are sites like The Pirate Bay or Kickass Torrents. Torrent indexing sites all provide search capabilities. Their search results will allow users to download .torrent files that are used by the torrent client software to download the actual files.
Is Using BitTorrent Legal?
While Torrents are mainly used today to exchange unlicensed video content—an illegal activity in most jurisdictions—giving them a bad reputation, they aren’t illegal in themselves and have lots of legitimate uses, including downloading open source software and material that’s in the public domain.
It all depends on the content you’re downloading. Provided the copyright holder has given permission for the file to be shared this way it’s fine, but using torrents to download content you’d otherwise have to pay for is illegal. While we can’t condone piracy in any way shape or form, we leave it up to our readers to exercise caution and only use BitTorrent to download files that are authorized to.
For Your Privacy And Protection, Use A VPN
Anything you do online, such as streaming content or doing online banking, is exposed to being spied on by ill-intentioned hackers, Internet Service Providers or even the Authorities. And given the somewhat bad reputation of torrents, you could run into problems even if you use them for legitimate purposes. In fact, some Internet providers will simply block torrent traffic. If you want the ultimate protection against all that, you should use a VPN.
RELATED READING: Are VPNs illegal in countries like Germany?
A VPN protects you by encrypting all data in and out of your computer using strong algorithms that make it virtually impossible to crack. Anyone intercepting your communications would only see meaningless garbage with no possibility of knowing what you’re doing or even where you’re going online.
Unfortunately, there are way too many VPN providers out there. That makes choosing the best one a difficult task. There are several important factors you should consider. A fast connection speed will reduce buffering, a no-logging policy will further protect your privacy, no usage restrictions will let you access any content at full speed and software for multiple platforms will ensure the VPN works with all your devices.
The Best VPN For BitTorrent – ExpressVPN
At addictivetips.com, we’ve tested most of the popular VPN providers and the best VPN we recommend for torrents is called ExpressVPN. The provider has 3,000+ servers in 94 countries worldwide, no speed cap or throttling, unlimited bandwidth, unrestricted traffic, a strict no-logging policy and client software available for most common platforms. Coupled with unbreakable 256-bit AES encryption, ExpressVPN delivers truly impressive performance and value.
Read our full ExpressVPN review.
- Unblocks Netflix and other streaming sites
- Super fast servers
- Govt-level AES-256 encryption
- No personal information logs kept
- Great customer service via chat.
- Limited configuration options
- High cost for month-to-month users.
The Pros and Cons of Using BitTorrent
Nothing is perfect. While there are some obvious advantages to using torrent, there are also shortcomings. Here are some of the most significant pros and cons of using BitTorrent.
- The best thing about torrents is that they are easy to use. Most torrent software requires no special configuration and will work right after completing its installation. And with dozens of torrent websites out there, finding content is always easy. Even rare or older content can be found most of the time.
- Another great thing about torrents is the huge number of people using them. Considering that this is a peer-to-peer system, the more users there are, the more content there is. A large number of users, therefore, ensure that lots of content will be available.
- While Usenet–another popular way of downloading files–is usually not expensive, torrents are free. This is, for many, an important differentiating factor. If you want to download files with no financial impact, torrents are the way to go. And contrary to Usenet that started free and then became a paying service, torrents will always remain free, due to the peer-to-peer model.
- The biggest problem with torrents, or at least to most apparent when you’re using it is its speed. Compared to some other methods such as Usenet, torrents can seem to be snail-paced. Like several of its advantages, this is due to its peer-to-peer model. The files you’re downloading on torrents are actually stored in bits and pieces on multiple computers belonging to torrents users just like you. And as you may know, most domestic Internet service has very slow upload speeds. Even though you may be sourcing the file from 20 different peers, each stream is a trickle.
- Security is another real problem with torrents and for many reasons. First, the communication between your computer and the peer’s in not encrypted. Anyone is, therefore, free to see what you’re doing. This can be alleviated by means of a VPN that encrypts the connection between your computer and the VPN server. A VPN will cost you money, though.
- Another security issue of torrents has to do with opening your computer to all the peers. Torrents have been known to be a vector for viruses and other malware. Beware and make sure you have a good antivirus on your computer.
- Last but not least, using torrents wastes Internet bandwidth. Whenever your torrent software is running, files on your computer are available for other users to download parts of and this consumes your bandwidth. If you don’t have an unlimited connection, you could end up paying overage fees to your provider. There is a way you can configure your torrent client to not share completed files but doing this is considered unethical. Think of what would happen if all torrent users decided not to share their content. No content would be available to anyone and the whole system would become useless.
The Best BitTorrent Clients
So, now that we know what torrents are and how they work and that we’re familiar with the legal aspects of using them, the time has come to have a look at some of very best BitTorrent client software.
Our first entry, qBittorrent offer a good balance of features, speed and simplicity. It is considered by many to be the best free BitTorrent client. This is a true free client, not an ad-supported piece of software. It also boasts a few extra tools that are nice to have yet it has fewer available extensions than some of its competitors. While some torrent clients offer every conceivable function, others keep things as simple as possible. In qBittorrent’s case, the software sits right in the middle, aiming to “meet the needs of most users while using as little CPU and memory as possible”.
Some of the best features of qBittorrent do include its integrated torrent search engine and media player, encryption, prioritization of torrents and of the files within those torrents, IP filtering and torrent creation. The software is a close clone of uTorrent (reviewed below) but without all the ads and other junk that many users hate about that torrent client. For those looking for a cross-platform, free torrent client that has all the essentials without getting overly complicated, qBittorrent is an excellent choice.
Next on our list is Vuze (formerly known as Azureus), a feature-packed torrent client… if you don’t mind the ads. It has a clear and well-designed interface and it can be expanded through various functional plugins. The makers of Vuze claim it is the most powerful BitTorrent client on Earth. And it might just be. One thing is for sure is that it’s most definitely a serious contender for that title.
Vuze is available in two versions. There’s the feature-limited Vuze Leap and the full-fledged Vuze Plus. Functionally speaking, they both offer torrent downloads, media playback and support for magnet file links. What the Vuze Plus version adds is integrated virus protection and the ability to preview media files.
One of Vuze‘s best features and a key selling point is its user interface. It hides all the complexities of using torrents from the user but still manages to make even the more advanced features accessible to new users. Other features of the software include bandwidth limiting, IP filtering, and all the other features you’d expect from any robust torrent client. Compared to other torrent clients, Vuze leaves nothing to be desired.
Next, we have Deluge, a customizable, cross-platform BitTorrent client that can be as lean or rich as you want. The software has been around forever—at least in computer years—and it’s expandable using plug-ins. This makes its feature set quite variable but, more importantly, adaptable to your specific needs. You can, for all intents an purposes, build your own personalized version of the software with all the features that you need and none of those that you don’t. The most important shortcoming of the software is its user interface which some users consider a bit too sparse.
If what you’re looking for is something that resembles uTorrent without the unwanted software, Deluge might turn out to be just that. But the software can be expanded with many advanced functions. For instance, you could add alphabetical downloading, a function to move downloaded files to specific directories according to their file type, adjust speed according to network conditions, create pretty graphs, schedule downloads, integrate with Chrome or Firefox, or batch-rename downloads. Those are all advanced functions that are not generally available in torrent client applications.
Although µTorrent has been highly criticized for its ad-supported business model, it’s one of the best and most used torrent clients. It is an incredibly lightweight client maintained by BitTorrent—the organization behind the technology—itself. Also known as uTorrent, the software has been around since 2005 and it’s the most widely used free torrent client outside China. Other than its advertising, the product has also been criticized for installing much “crapware” when you run its installer. However, if you make sure you read the small print at each step of the installer, you can uncheck any software you don’t want to install.
If you put the criticism aside, µTorrent is both useful and effective and it doesn’t use up too much of your system’s resources. In fact, the application’s footprint is smaller than that of a digital photo. And although it isn’t the “official” BitTorrent client, it’s been maintained by BitTorrent for the last decade which is definitely a testament to its value.
One thing you might want to know is that µTorrent has a record of security problems, the most recent of which had the potential to let hackers control key functions of the client and spy on users’ downloads. BitTorrent has since released a patch for the vulnerability.
Although they maintain the µTorrent client, the BitTorrent organization also publishes the BitTorrent client. This is where things get a little confusing. The BitTorrent client application is actually not much more than a rebranded version of µTorrent with a few functional differences. Like its cousin, this client is very small and uses little system resources and it also contains ads.
Although both applications are functionally almost identical there are a few key differences. First and foremost, BitTorrent offers web-based seeding, commenting and reviewing. While these functions might appeal to some of you, the most important difference is that you may find that the BitTorrent client is welcomed by some private trackers that don’t like µTorrent for whatever reason.
The Halite BitTorrent client is a lightweight and open source application that made it to our list due to its compact size and useful features. While the software might not pack every single advanced feature out there, it still has a vast array of available features ranging from selective downloads, priority queues, magnet links and trackerless torrent support, and port forwarding and randomization.
Halite is relatively simplistic and it doesn’t include many advanced features like other torrent clients on our list do. But it does have everything that a basic torrent user will need. The software is also available in a 64-bit version and its user interface can be switched to a variety of languages. It wraps its functionality in a minimalistic yet familiar-looking user interface that shines for its that lacks ads or other bloatware. For those who don’t need all the bells and whistles, it’s certainly an option
Last on our list is a product called Transmission. It is one of the most popular BitTorrent clients for the Mac and it is also available on Linux. This is an open-source project with freely distributable code. The Mac version makes heavy use of technologies specific to the Mac, such as the GTK+ UI widgets and Mac Daemon services, which are used to handle complex background tasks.
Although the software tends to be well-regarded, some serious security incidents, including ransomware being piggybacked into the installer in 2016 and a remote access vulnerability in 2018, have damaged the program’s reputation. On the plus side, Transmission does not include any additional unwanted software bundles, it does not track users, and it does not serve any ads or other unwanted popups. It also is absolutely free does not require to pay to get additional features.
Transmission features support for full encryption, magnet links, Local Peer Discovery and many other standards. The software can be controlled over the web or via terminal clients. It has a very low CPU and memory footprint and is written to work natively on whatever operating system it’s on.
If you need a VPN for a short while when traveling for example, you can get our top ranked VPN free of charge. ExpressVPN includes a 30-day money-back guarantee. You will need to pay for the subscription, that’s a fact, but it allows full access for 30 days and then you cancel for a full refund. Their no-questions-asked cancellation policy lives up to its name.