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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]

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