BitTorrent is mainly known as how people download pirated movies, or leaked album releases, or HBO shows they just can’t stream. Behind these stories, though, lies an impressive piece of technology.
Before BitTorrent, every file-sharing service worked the same way, from Napster to Download.com. Someone out there had a file you wanted, and you’d download it right from them. Simple.
What if the file is super popular, though? The more people downloading a file, the slower it goes. It’s just like how your Internet connection slows down when you’re sharing it at a coffee shop or with roommates.
Traditionally, everyone downloading a file is competing for the server’s bandwidth. With BitTorrent, though, they all work together.
When you start to download a file using BitTorrent, your computer also gets information on everyone else who is downloading it at the same time. I might have parts of the file you don’t have, and maybe you have parts that I’m missing. So we swap! Instead of just downloading from the server, you’re also automatically downloading from everyone else who is downloading, too.
This ends up being much faster for downloading, because you can download from many places at once, instead of just relying on one source. This makes it easier for the server, too, since it can rely on different users sharing the file instead of the server being the only source.
BitTorrent is one of the only file-sharing technologies that gets faster as more people are using it! More users, more sources, more speed.
Cocktail Party Fact
Thanks to the distributed nature of the Internet and the everyone-is-sharing nature of BitTorrent, it’s become a thorny legal issue in relation to piracy. Popular torrent site The Pirate Bay was raided by police back in 2006, and has recently been blocked across much of Europe!