Even before the advent of the Internet, there was a trend toward the digitizing of our cultural information — such as recorded music, Hollywood movies, and books in all subject areas. The Internet now makes it possible for people to share that information far more easily, by emailing files as attachments to messages, downloading files posted on websites, and using peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Gone are the days of "sneaker net", which involved moving a computer file from one machine to another, by physically transporting it on a diskette. Now, there are over two dozen different P2P networking protocols, including FastTrack, Freenet, Gnutella, and the notorious Napster. One P2P protocol, P2PTV, even specializes in television content.
Peer-to-peer file sharing now makes up a significant portion of all Internet traffic. An article published on Ars Technica on 3 September 2007, reported the results from studies done by two different deep packet inspection companies. P2P activity accounts for a minimum of 37 percent of all Internet traffic (according to Ellacoya Networks, a company since purchased by Arbor Networks), and possibly up to 90 percent (according to ipoque). Over a year later, the true figure is probably higher than it was at that time, as countless more people have begun using P2P networks and enjoying the plethora of content now available.
One of these P2P protocols, BitTorrent, is rapidly emerging as the leader, partly due to its superior architecture, which allows each user to download the pieces of a desired file — known as a "torrent" — from multiple sources simultaneously, rather than being dependent upon obtaining the file from a single source. This not only results in reduced risk of ending up with only part of a file, but it is faster and provides more anonymity. There are over two dozen commonly used BitTorrent clients, which are computer programs that you can install on your PC to participate in sharing torrents. In this article, I will focus on one of those clients applications, μTorrent.
Lean and Mean
Billing itself as "The World's most popular BitTorrent client", μTorrent runs on several versions of Microsoft Windows (Vista, XP, Server 2003, NT, 2000, 98, ME, and even 95, using Winsock2), Wine (for anyone running Linux who would like to use emulation), and Mac (recently released and currently in beta). Through the use of a separately downloaded language pack, the application supports 43 languages, ranging from Albanian to Vietnamese, with more being added all the time.
μTorrent is designed to be extremely lightweight — using little system memory or space on the hard drive. The most recent version (as of this writing), 1.8.1, requires less than 15 megabytes of RAM, and takes up only 264 kilobytes of disk space, which is a fraction of the space consumed by most if not all rival BitTorrent client installations. μTorrent is also lightweight in terms of system administration: In order to run the program, one does not even have to install it, going through the usual Windows program installation process. Instead, simply run the downloaded executable.
Even though μTorrent is laudably lightweight, it is also rich in features. In addition to the terrific operating system and language support mentioned earlier, it sports such features as multiple simultaneous downloads, fully configurable bandwidth scheduling, global and per-torrent speed limiting, RSS downloading, fast resumption of interrupted downloads, random port assignment, protocol encryption, automatic shutdown of the application or system reboot once all downloads have finished, and more. It displays a wealth of details about each torrent, as I will show shortly in screenshots of the application.
Mu (μ) for You
To get started using μTorrent, go to the program's home page.
On their website, you will see a page listing dozens of alternate user interface themes, known as "skins", which can be used to easily change the appearance of μTorrent's user interface. Note that the page, by default, only shows those skins that are compatible with the most recent version of the program. If, for whatever reason, you are running an earlier version and wish to see skins that are compatible with your older version, then click the checkbox near the top of that page.
The site also has a page offering 19 user forums, grouped by Windows, Mac, and non-English topics.
Download the latest version μTorrent by returning to the site's home page and clicking the large green button. Since the file that you download is the complete program itself, and not an installation file, do not save it into any temporary directory where you normally save installation files off the Internet. When you run the program, you will see the interface pictured below, without any torrents listed in the main panel to the right.
In order to make any changes to the program's configuration, choose Preferences from the Options menu.
More than likely, you will not need to modify any of the default settings. But be sure to check the Directories section (the third one), to see exactly where on your computer your downloaded torrents will be placed, once completed.
An Illustrative Example
To see μTorrent in action, let's start downloading a copy of Linux Mint, which is a Linux distribution based upon Ubuntu. I can use any one of a number of torrent sites. In this case, I will use ScrapeTorrent.
I enter the name "Linux Mint" in the entry field, and start the search. The results are displayed below.
The third torrent in the list, "Linux Mint 6 [Felicia] (x86)", has a healthy number of sources (known as "seeds"), so I will click on that one, which takes me to the linked page on Mininova.
Clicking on the "Download this torrent!" link on that page, pops up a dialog box in our current Web browser (in this case, the highly recommended Firefox).
Clicking the "OK" button opens the torrent file in μTorrent (assuming that you have not set some other BitTorrent application as the default Windows application for torrent files).
μTorrent will use the default torrent destination directory (mentioned earlier in the discussion of program options), but you can change that. In this example, I will save the file into a temporary directory, C:\_t. Clicking the "OK" button adds the torrent to the main panel in μTorrent, which immediately begins looking for sources for the file.
You see, in Figure 11, the name of the torrent, its file size, how much of it has been downloaded (3.3 percent), the current status, how many seeds and peers have been found on the BitTorrent network, the download and upload speeds, the estimated time of completion, how much of it has been uploaded to other users, and other information.
For any torrent listed in the panel, you can view a variety of information about it, by clicking on any of the seven tabs near the bottom portion of the application window. The General tab provides a visual representation of what parts of the file have been downloaded so far, and what parts are available, as well as their level of availability, with darker blues indicating portions that are more available than others. Additional details are listed below that.
The Trackers tab lists all of the BitTorrent services that are tracking this particular torrent.
Interested in what kind souls are providing you with the torrent that you are currently downloading? Just check the Peers tab for a list of them. μTorrent even tries to identify and label their countries of origin.
The next tab, Pieces, shows you how your chosen torrent has been divided into separate pieces, as well as the download status of the blocks that comprise each piece.
Most torrents consist of multiple files, and you can see a list of them in the Files tab. In our sample torrent, there are only two such constituent files.
Just how fast is the chosen torrent being shared? Click the Speed tab to monitor it in real-time, from a graph showing download speed (shown in green) and upload speed (red).
Once you start using μTorrent, you will undoubtedly see why it is such a favorite among so many BitTorrent enthusiasts.