Even if you've been casually Torrenting for years, BitTorrent tools keep getting better. Here's our guide for getting the most out of what is, slowly but surely, changing forever how people acquire and consume entertainments.
This guide is intended for folks who understand the basics but may have only just started to scratch the surface of what BitTorrent clients are capable of. If you're even more hardcore than the tips here, feel free to drop some knowledge (and links!) in the comments for everyone's use. Spread the love.
Throughout this guide we'll be using two of the most popular multi-platform BitTorrent clients, Vuze (formerly called Azureus) and µTorrent. Both apps take two fundamentally different approaches: Vuze packs in just about every feature you could imagine, including a search tool, social-networking-like sharing among friends, a content guide, and much more. µTorrent on the other hand is the opposite: sleek, simple and barebones. The choice is yours.
Lots of our pointers here will take advantages of some of Vuze's newest features, but we love µTorrent too. Where applicable, we'll highlight standalone applications that can help bring some of Vuze's integrated functionality to µTorrent fans.
Set up Your Router's NAT and Transfer Limits
This is, without a doubt, the single most important thing you can do to ensure the highest possible BitTorrent performance. And it's also something often overlooked by casual and even intermediate Torrenters.
BitTorrent clients pipe all of their network traffic through a single "port" on your network. But your router likes to partially or fully block traffic that doesn't come through on all the "standard" ports (like port 80 for web traffic, for instance). So you want to make sure your computer has a clear and open channel to all that data you're going to be sucking down by setting up "port forwarding," which lets your router know to which computer on the network it should send traffic on certain ports instead of blocking it. Make sense?
1. In your Torrent client's preferences under the "network" or "connection" heading, find out which TCP/UDP port it's using. Keep the default, but for the record, you can choose basically any number you want (but read Vuze's "Good Port Choices" article first) and if you have multiple machines on the same network using BitTorrent you'll want to choose unique port numbers for all of them.
2. Now, open up your router's admin page. This is pulled up by going to your router's IP address in a web browser (commonly 192.168.0.1, 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.2.1). Sometimes you'll have to enter a username and password; Google around for your model's default name/password if you can't remember it. Users of Apple's AirPort routers should use the AirPort Utility app.
3. Now, the terminology for what you're looking for is called different things by all the router companies. Some call it "port forwarding," others call it "virtual servers" or "port mapping"—the terminology is surprisingly varied, but it's usually listed under an "advanced settings" tab if there is one. The site Portforwarding.com can help you locate yours if you're having trouble.
4. Once you've found where this all goes down, enter the port number from your client in step 1 for BOTH UDP and TCP fields (you'll enter the same port number for the "private" or "local" UDP/TCP fields). You'll also enter your current machine's IP address (found in Network preferences on both OS X and Windows).
Note: If your machine is a laptop and you're frequently connecting and disconnecting from the network, you'll want to set up a static local IP address so you don't have to switch your router's settings every time you Torrent.
5. Hit save, and you should be good to go. Your BitTorrent client will have a network test built in somewhere in the preferences—use that to make sure your connection is clear.
6. Now, the final step, is setting a limit to your uploading speeds. As you know, BitTorrent simultaneously uploads to other peers while you're downloading, and to ensure solid download speeds you must upload. But you don't want these uploads to take over your limited upload bandwidth, especially if you're on a cable connection. To be safe, cap your uploads around 20 kb/s. This is a good general ballpark that'll ensure good download speeds and won't clog your pipe. If you're on FIOS you may want to kick that up a bit, but play around.
Vuze has a tool that can help you auto-configure your speeds too—probably worth experimenting with in the prefs.
Cover Your Ass
All the regular disclaimers apply: don't be an idiot when you're downloading stuff you probably shouldn't. Here are some tools and strategies to make sure you keep yourself virus- and subpoena-free. But like always, no guarantees! Proceed at your own risk! Etc.
1. Don't seed more than is absolutely necessary. The RIAA/MPAA/NARC's number one priority are heavy uploaders. Not to say that the downloading part is any less illegal, but if you stop seeding and delete your .torrent file after it's done downloading, your odds of staying safe are significantly higher.
Note: If your carefully crafted code of online morals compels you to continue uploading beyond the amount you shared during the download, feel free, knowing that it increases your odds of getting a friendly note from your ISP. And, please, do seed any files that are intentionally being distributed via BitTorrent, like a Linux distribution or Creative Commons licensed stuff from friends like Nine Inch Nails. You can't get hurt by that.
You could make an argument that Torrenting is mainstream enough to survive on many thousands of people seeding very small amounts (ie: the amount uploaded while they're downloading), or you could make an argument about the double (triple? quadruple?) paradoxes that surface when contemplating the morals of consuming vis a vis sharing in the grey to grayish-black Torrent market. But I'm not your dad—what you do is up to you.
2. Go for torrents with a lot of seeds and good comments. If hundreds of people are seeding a file, the odds of it being of good quality and virus free are higher. I know this may seem contradictory to point #1, but you're not in this for the geek cred. You're in this for you. So go with the herd. Also, comments on torrent sites will often have some shreds of useful info—if a lot of people report strange behaviour with the downloaded file or a mysterious password lock, skip it.
Also, seeking out the geek legends of the Torrent community will go a long way to ensure good downloads. Choose people like aXXo's Torrents where possible.
3. Use the Bluetack IP filter to keep known baddies out of your life. The folks at Bluetack maintain a list of IP ranges of known spammers, virus seeders, and undercover snoops like Media Defender who might bust your arse. To add the list to Vuze, go to Preferences -> IP Filgers and type in the following URL into the auto-fill field: http://www.bluetack.co.uk/config/level1.zip
4. Look at private torrent sites. Even though Oink's hallowed days are over, there are still a number of good, private BitTorrent sites, where your odds of getting hit with random malware or a federal subpoena are lessened. But they may take some conniving to get invited to, and you'll likely be forced to upload a certain amount to keep your membership.
5. Moderation, moderation. When you can, watch on Hulu, or heaven forbid, buy from your favourite artists. And the less massive your bandwidth usage, the less likely you are to draw the ire of your ISP (or their monthly bandwidth cap).
Autodownload Your Favourite Shows via RSS
For serialized stuff like TV shows, you can easily set up Vuze to subscribe to popular series via RSS and auto-download them every week. It's nice. µTorrent lovers should check out TED, a cross-platform standalone app that does the same thing.
1. In Vuze, search for your favourite show. Once you've found the newest episode and added it to your download list, click the orange RSS button under "Subscribe." The subscribe window can also look at other files in your library and subscribe to those too.
2. You'll see a lot of different options, all seemingly the same. Choose HD where possible, and if there's an EZTV option, choose that—it's a reliably source of good torrents. Then, new episodes will appear in your Subscriptions area automatically, and you can pull them down.
Stream to Your Game Console or Transcode For Your iPod/PMP/Phone with Vuze
The newest version of Vuze added a seriously useful transcoding and streaming tool—just when you thought there couldn't be anything else crammed into this app. But it's great, and works perfectly to auto-detect a PS3 or Xbox 360 on your network and stream your downloads to your TV without any annoying configurations.
1. Enable the streaming add-on under the "Devices" option in the left pane.
2. If your PS3 or Xbox 360 is on and connected to your network, it will automatically show up as a device. Simply drag a file from your library to the icon for your console, and it will be available in the expected area (in the Video menu of the PS3's XMB and the My Video Library, as another PC, on the Xbox 360).
3. The tool will also transcode to iTunes in sizes optimised for iPods, iPhones and Apple TV using the same process. Just drag the file from your Vuze library to the iTunes icon, and after a somewhat slow conversion time, it will be copied to your iTunes library. Pretty sweet.
There are plenty of places you can take it from there. Like setting up a dedicated, always-on torrrent machine, either with a spare PC or a standalone NAS box with a built-in Torrent client. Then you can take advantage of web-only interfaces to access and manage your downloads from the road.
Sounds like pretty good fodder for a future how to, doesn't it? Keep your eyes peeled.
So that's about it! Like we said before, if you have more tips and tools to share, please drop some links in the comments—your feedback is hugely important to our Saturday How To guides. And if you have any topics you'd like to see covered here, please let me know. Have a good weekend Torrenting, everyone!
Image courtesy of, you guessed it, Jason Chen.