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Bit Torrent Review
I wrote the following article in February of 2004 on another web site and I thought I would repost it here since there is still a lot of interest in it:

Over the last couple of weeks I have heard more and more about Bit Torrent, a new kind of file sharing program. I gave it a try myself this weekend to see how it works.

For the exact details about how it works, you can refer other web sites such as the Bit Torrent Headquarters (BTHQ). Simply said, when you want to download a certain file, you first need to find the torrent file for this files you are looking for. The torrent files gets loaded into a client. This client than visits a so called tracker, a service that runs on another machine somewhere in the internet universe, whose address is located in the torrent file. The tracker gets requests from several clients and it forwards the addresses of the clients to all the other clients.

The biggest advantage of the bit torrent technology is that a client can share parts of a file long before the complete file hasn't been downloaded yet. So a client is uploading and downloading parts of the file at the same time. Since each client has probably downloaded a different part, they talk to each other and exchange parts with each other so that each clients ends up with the complete file.

This is certainly a smart approach since every client becomes a contributor to the process instead of having many clients all going after the same file on one other client.

Having those torrents files is a clean way to retrieve files. Just double clicking on it and the client starts retrieving the file.

There were however a few things I did not like about it: First you need to find those torrent files. There are web sites but most them didn't work and if they worked, several pop-up windows would appear. Very annoying because without a torrent file you can't do anything. There are however a few nice web sites such as Suprnova.org. Especially this one is well organized so you can quickly find for instance a certain episode of a TV show but it's also slow because of the popularity and you have to wonder if it's popularity might take it down. And keep in mind that you might be doing something illegal when you download a file that has copy right protection.

A second weakness are the trackers. When they are down, you can't do anything. Besides that, it's hard to believe that a tracker will be around for ever so old torrent files will not work because the tracker isn't there anymore.

And finally, when several clients are looking for a file but they are all missing the same part, nobody will be able to get the full file. Where other sharing programs like Kazaa maintain a folder with files that get shared as long the program is running, each bit torrent client only works for one torrent file and in general one doesn't run a client anymore when you already have the file. After you have downloaded the whole file, you are asked to run the client for several hours so people can take advantage of it but as soon you press ‘finished’, nobody is able to touch it. As a result, a normal user only shares a file when he is downloading it. So if you are looking for a file that is not very popular you will have a tough time finding it.

Bit Torrent works well when a large file quickly needs to be distributed among a group of people who know each other. They can send the torrent file around to each other. It also works very well for files that are very popular but if you are looking for a specific file that is not very popular (anymore) you might be out of luck with Bit Torrent. First finding the torrent file is a pain. Then you have to hope that the tracker is still alive and finally you need to hope that other people are looking for it too and that those people already have some parts of the file.

Bit Torrent is great for popular files. Downloading works a lot faster than other file sharing programs but if you are looking for that specific files that only you seemed to be interested in, try another tool.

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