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If you’ve been browsing MakeUseOf for a little while, you probably know how much we like torrents.  The Bit Torrent distribution system allows for rapid dissemination of large files to thousands of people.  It’s not the most user friendly system in the world, though.  If torrents are relatively new to you, you’ve probably run into a few common pitfalls – pitfalls that I hope to illuminate in today’s article.

1. Use a Good Torrent Tracker Search Engine

One of the first barriers to entry for most new torrenters is “how to find them.”  With few exceptions, torrents are rarely posted out in the open and individually recommended.  Official releases of Ubuntu do this, for instance, but generally, you’re going to need a search engine.

Torrents are really just tiny index files.  By themselves, they have no function.  Each torrent is tied to a “tracker,” which uses the indexing data to organize the network of people using the torrent or “peers.”  Some trackers have their own search engine that generally searches their own files exclusively.  The Pirate Bay, is a fairly good example of this.  Most popular torrents are on several trackers, though, so finding them is usually done on a more general search engine.

Personally, I have a few favorite torrent search engines that I will try out separately when I’m looking for something.  These include:

Why these engines?  Well generally, the more popular a torrent, the easier it is to find and use.  These are the most popular search engines, so the same concept works for them as well.  Also, “lesser” search engines often have more obscure stuff, but are frequently loaded with malware and flagrant advertising.  Popular search engines do have a greater risk of being shut down by Intellectual Property (IP) Police, such as the RIAA and the MPAA, so having multiple engines to choose from is a good thing.

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If you don’t want to flit from engine to engine, consider using uSniff, a multi-engine torrent site that will look among the top search engines and show you results from all of them.

2. Evaluate Potential Torrents

Once you’ve found a torrent file you’re looking for, it’s time to evaluate it.  Usually there are several copies of any given media floating about (if there aren’t it’s often very hard to find), so here is how you choose which one to actually download.  First of all, look at the tracker, if you are familiar with it, that’s usually a good sign.  The Pirate Bay, for instance, has its own tracker.  If you don’t recognize it, it’s not the end of the world.

Another positive sign is the number of users associated with the torrent.  If there are a lot of seeders and leechers on the torrent, this means that it’s not only going to download faster (probably), but it’s also been vetted by more people.  If you see that the torrent only has a few seeds, this means the torrent is in danger of falling out of availability.  If you have the option, go with the torrent with the most seeders (though once this number climbs over 20 or so, it doesn’t matter that much.

If the site allows you to leave comments, read them.  If you want to be awesome, remember to go back and comment on the quality of the files when you’ve finished downloading.

3. Don’t Download Archives

One of the most useful tips I’ve ever picked up is as follows: don’t download archives.  An archive is any kind of compressed file format like a Zip or RAR file.  Compression is fairly unnecessary when torrenting a file, so whenever you see it, it’s usually a bad sign.  Often the host of the torrent is trying to either provoke you into buying something to unlock the files (which you already painstakingly downloaded and found locked!) or they are trying to conceal the files from view for some malicious reason.

In the former case, it’s a business of some sort, usually someone who runs a proprietary player.  In the latter, it’s probably a virus or malware.  These kinds of tricks are usually fairly ineffective because users realize what they are and stop supporting the torrent, but sometimes the host will seed the torrent at high speed to help give the appearance of legitimacy.

While I’m sure there are some archived torrents out there that are completely legit, you can save yourself a whole lot of trouble by simply not bothering with them in the first place.

4. Watch Out for Malicious Sites

The last warning I would extend is for malicious sites.  Don’t take this at face value.  Some sites are actually out to get you for one reason or another and have encoded “on view” or “on click/download” malware and viruses into their source.  More commonly, the advertising component of these sites is hijacked and used to spread malware.  If your browser’s anti-phishing warnings come up when you visit a torrent site, don’t just shrug them off.  Also, regularly scan your computer after visiting these sites that make up the “fringe” of the internet.

For those of you using private trackers Three Ways to Find Open Registration on Private Torrent Sites Three Ways to Find Open Registration on Private Torrent Sites Read More , you are not invincible.  Recently Empornium.us admitted that their advertisers inserted some nasty stuff into their code and infected many of their users.  You have been warned!

Some other articles that you might find helpful in your torrenting journey:

[I CAN HAS BIT TORRENT? by Paulpod, CC | isoHunt logo from isoHuntwill never stop us by 7of666, CCBEWARE OF RAR by seanaes, CC]

  1. Nostromov
    December 8, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Ugh, The Pirate Bay was, is & gonna be -just- fine; no reason 2 panic!..;) :)

  2. Ujjwol
    October 4, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    How to take screenshot of the webpage as shown of the Pirate Bay in this post.

  3. Russ
    February 25, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Use a html blocker i.e. peerguardian2 to make sure no one can see what you're doing on your computer and always make sure to read comments on torrents, if the feedback is good then it's a pretty safe bet there isn't a trojan in there.

  4. krugle
    February 25, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    rule 3 its true but also not true yes you should be aware of rar files to an extent with simple movie files yah you should probly not download it however for tv series and iso files its very common to do so infact not downloading that way is a good way to get pinged by ur isp if your not using peerguardian

  5. Alexandre
    February 25, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Totally agree with Charax. Your #3 rule is bad advice.

  6. jackew
    January 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Speed of download has been my problem. I have Earthlink with 1.5MB broadband, but it's not unusual to take, literally, days to download. I understand the ISPs sometimes interfere with torrents. Is Earthlink one such? And if so, any other recommendations?

    jackew

  7. Wolf
    January 2, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Your archive reasoning leaves me stumped.

    Any application file can and will be reduced in size when archived. Not only that, but a great deal of the private torrenting sites have ratios, and will hammer you if you put up full size files. Torrenting is a great resource and if all ppl did not archive files, the loads on trackers would be horrendous. With torrenting, the smaller you can make the file, the better off you are: both for the seeders and the leechers.

  8. Guy Mann
    January 1, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Hey i would definitely disagree with your archiving suggestion and agree with Charax. I have downloaded multiple torrents which were archived in such a manner without any trouble or worry. The reasoning for this type of compression is 2 fold. First, It will allow for a smaller file size for the transmitted data, granted not by much for video but if you are looking at very large file sizes every bit helps. Secondly, as Charax mentioned you could fix a corruption issue in a single of the files by redownloading just that one piece. However this is not as big an issue in BitTorrent because pieces are verified as they are downloaded.

    Another thing about miltiple rar files. If you have a modern version of your compression software you should only have to tell it to extract the first file and the software should automatically extract from all the subsequent rar files if they are present.

  9. Steve
    January 1, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    There's no reason to make a 43 or 50+ file archive of a video, there's no benefit to the compression (there's no compression at all actually). Most of the ones I see that are like that are passworded or bogus. The "good" ones are straight up avi's or iso's or the actual video contens (folders). One thing to also check is that people will tend to release stuff that isn't theirs, and they label it as a well known group. Just went to usniff and found about 20 torrents that claim to be from a well known group, but they are all bogus. So be wary, and look for a large amount of seeders, and ALWAYS read the comments.

    • g
      January 2, 2009 at 1:51 am

      i noticed one of my favorite torrent uploaders - axxo, had some dufus uploading a bunch of fakes in his name. funny thing is they were the most seeded/leached torrents at the time.

      i suggest if you are new to torrents to hang around awhile and get a feel for who's who. when i first started, i jumped right in and ended up downloading the wrong stuff a few times (fakes, virus embedded, etc) until i figured out who had the best content.

  10. WesllyOni
    January 1, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    thank you very much for the advice. I usually don't go straight to a torrent tracker, I frequently go to torrent search sites like youtorrent and torrentz, now I added usniff as you recommend, I'll give a try..

  11. Josh
    January 1, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    In general i would agree with your comments on archives, but there is one notable exception. When downloading hi-def video, it is become pretty common for those files to be archived. While I don't think it's a good idea, I've never had malware problems from any of these files. It can save as much as a couple of gigabytes on larger files. Just something to be aware of.

    • Jimmy Rogers
      January 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm

      Mmm, that is a good one. I've never been a huge downloader of HD movies (simply because my viewing hardware is fairly primitive).

      Again, I'm not sure exactly how useful it is to archive, because you're going to have to have either the full file somewhere else when you watch it AND the archive at the same time to help seed the file. If you just leave it unarchived, the watchable file and the seeding source can be one in the same and take up less space. I mean really size isn't nearly as important as popularity on a torrent.

  12. g
    January 1, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    i scan and re-scan all of my torrents for nefarious content with my malware and antivirus programs. i have been careless and have gotten bugs from torrents so be aware of what you are downloading.

    my two faves for torrent hunting are:
    bitjunkie and mininova.

    and use caution when visiting the torrent sites. i swear i got a piece of malware attack at the isohunt website so i quit going there although i did like the site. i think they have some website code issues with advertisers.

    i haven't had any problems with rars yet although i can see your point of not knowing what's behind the green curtain.

  13. Andrei
    January 1, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Every scene release is archived... wtf?

  14. xabbott
    January 1, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    "Don’t Download Archives" Wow, awful advice. Switch that whole paragraph to "non-archives" and you'll be more accurate.

    • Jimmy Rogers
      January 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm

      I'm totally at a loss as to why you would WANT your downloads archived? My reasoning is already in the article...

      • Charax
        January 1, 2009 at 3:45 pm

        Depends on the archive format. If the torrent has a single "stuff.zip" file, probably best to avoid it.

        If it contains multiple, sequential RAR files of a fixed size (usually 50 or 100 meg) with an accompanying .nfo file, then DO download it, as the person who made it knows what they're doing - that way if one part of your multi-gigabyte torrent is corrupt you only have to find one or two new archives, not the whole thing.

        It may be annoying as hell to extract all the nested RARs, but it's worth it when you end up with a flawless 8.54 gig DVD-DL ISO

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_(warez)#Packaging

        Really, telling people to flat-out avoid Archives is probably the worst advice you could give anyone about torrents, next to "Don't use PeerGuardian" and "You don't need an AV program"

      • FL
        January 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

        I disagree 'Don’t Download Archives'. I personally prefer archives, because:
        1. in the case of data, the resulting file is smaller in size, hence quicker to download. in the case of media see the following point.
        2. they provide an extra error checking on extract, so that I know that I have exactly what it should be, as you know a single bit can crash a program.
        3. when you are talking about multi GiB stuff, e.g. movies, it allows to split into sensible size, so that I can split my download location and even my download progress (download the first 500MiB, say, than the next, so on) when I have limited storage.
        4. timestamps are also preserved, which I am very passion about. which I find very useful when there is just so many different versions around.

        I have once downloaded a multi series show 22GiB in avi's. turned out a few have errors and wouldn't play, which I had to download and redownload the bug-free ones. I just don't trust the bt error checking, and who know what other people might have swapped a different file to be redistributing. lucky that I tested them.

  15. Light Spot
    January 1, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    I use usniff.com for searching
    It search's about 6 popular torrent site and arrange them by the most seaders
    give it try and you will love it

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