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To many people, BitTorrent is synonymous with piracy. This isn’t true — BitTorrent is certainly used for piracy, but it’s also used for many legal things. If we banned BitTorrent tomorrow and removed it from the Internet, many organizations, businesses, and content creators would have to scramble to replace it.

Like HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. You could use your browser to download pirated content, just as you could use a BitTorrent client to download pirated content, but that isn’t the only possible use. Sure, let’s face it — BitTorrent is probably primarily used for downloading unauthorized content. But that’s far from its only use, and the protocol still has a lot of value to people who don’t pirate.

Game Updates & Downloads

Blizzard Entertainment uses its own BitTorrent client to download World of Warcraft 4 Reasons Why Mists Of Pandaria Makes WOW Worth Going Back To [MUO Gaming] 4 Reasons Why Mists Of Pandaria Makes WOW Worth Going Back To [MUO Gaming] The latest World of Warcraft expansion has been on the market for a couple weeks, and I have been able to spend far too many hours playing it. I started playing WOW again a few... Read More , Starcraft II, and Diablo III. When you purchase one of these games and download it, you’re actually just downloading a BitTorrent client that will do the rest of the work. When an update is available, the BitTorrent client built into the game’s launcher automatically downloads it for you.

This allows Blizzard to save money on bandwidth and offer faster download speeds to its many players. Players can choose whether they want to contribute their upload bandwidth to speed things up for other people.

Facebook and Twitter  Use BitTorrent Internally

Facebook and Twitter both use BitTorrent internally to move files around. Ars Technica revealed Facebook’s usage of BitTorrent:

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Moving a 1.5GB binary blob to countless servers is a non-trivial technical challenge. After exploring several solutions, Facebook came up with the idea of using BitTorrent, the popular peer-to-peer file sharing protocol. BitTorrent is very good at propagating large files over a large number of different servers.

BitTorrent is designed to distribute large files to multiple different computers, allowing each system to contribute some of its own bandwidth to speed up the process. This makes it useful for any situation where you want to transfer large files as fast as possible in a scalable way.

bittorrent-facebook

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization that preserves content and makes it downloadable on the Internet. It’s known for its Wayback Machine, which stores copies of websites and allows you to go back in time and relive the past Go Back In Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago Go Back In Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago The year was 1997. Apple was a struggling computer company, AOL was a booming Internet service provider, Microsoft was on the verge of releasing Windows 98, and the Web was a very different place. Through... Read More . The organization also offers a huge archive of public domain media — recordings of live concerts, eBooks, old movies and TV shows, and other audio recordings.

The Internet Archive recommends people use BitTorrent to download its content, as it’s the fastest method and allows the non-profit organization to save on bandwidth costs.

internet-archive-torrents

Government Uses

In 2010, the UK government released several large data sets showing how public money was being spent. To make these available, they offered them via BitTorrent. This allowed the government to save on bandwidth costs. And, let’s face it — BitTorrent is also the fastest way to make such documents available to the largest number of people possible.

NASA has also used BitTorrent to make a 2.9GB picture of the Earth available.

nasa-blue-marble

File Syncing With BitTorrent Sync

BitTorrent, Inc. — the company behind BitTorrent — recently released BitTorrent Sync. BitTorrent Sync works differently from standard BitTorrent clients From Pirate Darling To Dropbox Alternative: BitTorrent Sync Lets You Keep Your Files Synchronized Across Machines From Pirate Darling To Dropbox Alternative: BitTorrent Sync Lets You Keep Your Files Synchronized Across Machines Cloud-based file sync services are easy to use and work well, but your privacy may or may not be your first priority. Not to mention the fact that these services always come with a storage... Read More . it’s entirely private — you install the client, choose one or more folders to share, and then link it up with other computers. Files anyone places in their copy of the shared folder are all automatically synced with all other copies of the shared folders.

In this way, BitTorrent Sync is a lot like Dropbox. Unlike Dropbox, it doesn’t store your files in a centralized server online — it just syncs them between computers you own or computers your friends own. This means that it offers easy file sharing over the Internet and, unlike Dropbox, you can sync an unlimited number of files as long as you have the space on your computers for them.

BitTorrent Sync could be used to share pirated content, but that would be silly when pirated content is available in so many public BitTorrent streams. It’s a great way to roll your own Dropbox-like service and share files across the Internet without trusting them to a central server or being limited by the size of your cloud storage account How To Get The Most Free Space On Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive & More - The Complete Guide How To Get The Most Free Space On Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive & More - The Complete Guide Cloud storage services offer a minimum amount of free space to everyone who signs up, but you can often get more. You can upgrade your cloud drive with gigabytes and gigabytes of free space in... Read More .

bittorrent syncapp

Linux ISOs

If you’re familiar with BitTorrent, you’ll know that BitTorrent users always say they’re downloading “Linux ISOs” as a joke when they’re actually downloading pirated content. This may be a common joke, but it’s also a good excuse — Linux ISOs are a common use for BitTorrent.

Whether you’re downloading the latest release of Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, or any Linux distribution, there’s a good chance you’re getting it via BitTorrent. These distributions offer themselves for free to everyone and they’re often 1 GB or larger. BitTorrent can help them save on bandwidth costs and speed up downloads.

Distributing Videos and Music

If you want to make media available — perhaps you’ve produced a documentary and want to release it for free or you’re a band that wants to release free music as a promotion — BitTorrent is one of the best ways to do it. If you hosted the files yourself, you’d have to pay for a lot of bandwidth. If you make the files available via BitTorrent, you’d save a lot of bandwidth by letting your fans contribute their bandwidth as they downloaded your content. You’d also receive press just for making your files available via BitTorrent.

The official BitTorrent website has a list of “bundles” of music and videos artists make available to hook fans, just as the radio was — and still is — used to offer free music to large number of people in hopes that they’ll attend live shows and buy albums.

bittorrent-bundles

Distributing Any Large Data

BitTorrent is a great way to distribute any large chunk of data as fast as possible, saving money on bandwidth. In addition to all the uses above, BitTorrent has been used to share large scientific data sets with anyone interested. Any large chunk of data that’s free for anyone to access can be distributed publically with BitTorrent.

So What Does This Tell Us About BitTorrent?

If we look at the examples above, we can see that BitTorrent is very useful in several situations:

  • Public distribution of data that’s free for anyone to access. Whether it’s public domain videos, Linux ISOs, scientific data sets, or high-resolution pictures of the Earth, BitTorrent is an effective way to distribute the content. Even Blizzard doesn’t care if people use its BItTorrent clients to download its game files — they have to authenticate online before they can play the games, so Blizzard is happy to provide its game files to anyone.
  • Private distribution of data among a few trusted sources. Whether it’s Facebook and Twitter using BitTorrent to update their servers or average people using BitTorrent Sync to move their personal data back and forth between their computers, BitTorrent is a fast way to leverage multiple computers’ Internet connections and quickly sync data.

BitTorrent is a tool, and a particularly useful one — that’s why it’s so widely used for piracy. There was piracy before BitTorrent and there would be piracy after BitTorrent if BitTorrent died tomorrow. BitTorrent also allows the Internet to be more participatory, enabling average people to share their files without paying for massive amounts of bandwidth and contribute their own bandwidth to share other people’s files.

If you’re looking for more examples, check out the “Does BitTorrent Equal Piracy?” website, set up by BitTorrent, Inc.

bittorrent-etsy[4]

Do you use BitTorrent for other legal purposes? Leave a comment below and share them!

Image Credit: Martin Fisch on Flickr, Blue Marble via NASA

  1. Max
    March 8, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    UCSC cghub uses bittorent to distribute cancer genomes

  2. Hori
    May 23, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    What an irony. I started buying games on Steam just as soon as i moved to Linux and started to download real Linux ISOs

  3. leo
    February 10, 2015 at 7:01 am

    As a microsoft trainer i need to spread the course files to 30-40 student pc's every week, instead of normal copy from our file server,to each individual pc, using a torrent localy i can set up a classroom in about 1h instead of about 6h, bittorrent client on all pc', start torrent, go for coffee.. done :) and very legal.

  4. Mike P
    November 10, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    But, in the light of the recent problems coming out of the USA at the moment, I wonder what the NSA think of all this? For sure we all use in the linux world some form of torrenting but everyone here thinks that is illegal. It is still not clear in Germany if we by using the torrents to download e.g Debian .iso, we are braking some law in some US state. The widespread thought is that if the NSA and other government bodies in the US are watching and recording everything we download then this must be illegal.

    Mike in Germany

    • ALEX
      January 25, 2016 at 11:53 pm

      Torrenting is not illegal. You will not be accused by the government of doing anything illegal because of torrenting legally. You may be watched more carefully for a time after downloading a torrenting client, but that is all.

  5. richarduie
    October 21, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Nice tool for Open Source software sharing, e.g., Eclipse (a piddly, little 197.5MB).

    I am also seeding BackTrack (3.1GB - 26.435 share ratio) and Kubuntu (3.3GB - 22.261 share ratio) as I type this. I reported my current share ratios by way of emphasizing that people DO torrent Linux.

  6. Sangit
    September 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    It's the great idea from the great mind it should not be stop and it god like for the computer user who want to learn a lot.

  7. Alex
    August 20, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Dropbox also encryps data when storing files.
    BTSync looks insecure.
    I'm rely on my own encryption.

    • Bolw
      August 20, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      You can encrypt your data and use any service to be sure.

  8. J.Eul
    August 20, 2013 at 7:09 am

    I use BTDigg and BTCloud to get Linux Distros and save my battery on mobile and my internet connection stable.

  9. Glenn
    August 20, 2013 at 3:36 am

    And, male bathhouses are not just a place for gay men to meet.

  10. pmshah
    August 20, 2013 at 3:00 am

    You have left out the very critical aspect of the protocol. When one creates a torrent file the bittorrent client breaks up the file/s into,maybe, a couple of thousand pieces and creates a hash-tag. This is checked at the receiver's end for errors and the p[art that is invalid is re-downloaded. The end result is that the receiver gets EXACTLY what the creator had inbtended. There is ZERO possibility of any kind of virus creeping in, unless of course the creator put if in there. This is the most secure way of transferring the files.

    I use BitTorrent Sync extensively to keep my clients informed about updates. What I am now working on is to create a startup batch file that will verify transfer completion and install the updates automatically.

    The best part is it works in the background, internationally, with zero intervention by the client. I also keep friends and families with photos. I am most certainly not a fan of on line photo storage services.

    • Daniel Nordstrom
      August 23, 2013 at 2:25 am

      Hello Mr. Mshah,

      That is one major fucking “unless of course” that you threw (up) on there, and one huge “ZERO” that doesn't look like a zero at all. Visually it's more square than oval—logically it's more of a range, let's say, between and including negative eleven, and positive six (or nine, I mean they're equal, we just haven't decided on which is upside-down). Oh, the human factor—the greatest risk factor, and the greatest challenge, in the history of any protocol touching upon the flawed human concept of “trust.” But of course, I really do see your point: it's an awesome feature, and BT is a great protocol.

      (And hell no, never to confuse with the *ducking fick* BT Corporation of Brit-land—a venture that I, for future generations’s sake, wish had stayed, instead of spread like a maniac-depressive Umbrella Corp mishap on a gram of inside-five-asses-across-fifteen-borders-and-cut-with-adrenaline-then-injected über-crack gifted with serious roid rage.)

      That said, tapping (because clicks are for grandmas) a Magnet link is comparable to pulling on a slot machine—watch the bits roll in, and hope for the best. Even on TPB, which has a well-trusted trust system, some trusted people screw up, some screw you up (deliberately), a few are cool people, and some probably aren't even people, but Terminators roaming the cloud.

      But that's just how the world turned out, and how we maintain it. If you play the game, you take the heat. Every action is served with a reaction.

      *R?mblestiltskin shall now return to his blueprints and whiteboards of world peace and no order.* ?

      By the way, happy to hear from a Sync user—been wanting to test drive it. Glad it works well for you so far. Just buy a Mac and I'd write you some launch agent files to keep it all tight in the bee-gee (okay, “in the background”). Then again, I'm more a web guy, and named my last standalone script “Thong.rb”—will forever stand firmly by my decision!

      Love what you use it for too. A couple of months ago I personally set up my home-brewed cloud storage solution with automatic bidirectional sync for selected folders, all on AWS with FUSE drive access. There's way too much fun to do!

      MrN. Out.

      PS. As for the article, I'm not the least bit surprised—a bit disappointed, but I'm never here and I'm not sure what I'm doing here now, so whatever and whatnot. I've personally been thinking if BT could someday work as distributed storage for unhosted website content and similar. Didn't feel right.

  11. John G
    August 19, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I use another client for my (____________) downloads but thanks to this article, I've learned about a couple of sites that I didn't know even existed. Didn't know there was such an animal as an Internet Archive but II'm darn sure glad you mentioned it!!

    As I always tell everyone I know, MUO's email list is a great place to be!! Thanks!

  12. charles c
    August 19, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Chris: Good article. I have always been afraid to use a BitTorrent client in that I read that some ISP's will slow down a users bandwidth if the ISP discovers the computer user is running a BitTorrent client. Is this true? If so, is there any way to hide the use of the BitTorrent client from the ISP?

  13. Col_Panek
    August 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I use Transmission to download Linux distros all the time. BitTorrent, never used.

    • Kalin
      August 21, 2013 at 1:36 am

      Transmission is a BitTorrent client.

    • steamersama
      December 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      oh lol, the mighty roar of ignorance!

  14. Nermal
    August 17, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    You need to tell those fascist arseholes at BT that torrents are more than just piracy!

    • pmshah
      August 20, 2013 at 3:03 am

      One can always fine illegal or antisocial uses for absolutely any technology in the world. So what is your point in name calling? Or do you subscribe to modified adage "It takes one to (know) call one"

  15. Totoliciu D
    August 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Good to know!

  16. Tim
    August 17, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Humble Bundle is also a great (legal) platform that uses torrenting for their downloads

  17. Nash J
    August 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I love torrents and it is the best way to move around large files. I used to be plagued when downloading and something happens and then would have to restart especially with Linux distributions.
    So glad they moved to that route.

  18. Nahid K
    August 17, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I always download Ubuntu and Linux Mint via BitTorrent and BitTorrent always been a good friend when Playing world of warcraft.

  19. Nolan
    August 17, 2013 at 6:26 am

    Yeah Linux distros... SURE.

  20. John Fraser
    August 17, 2013 at 4:12 am

    I ... download Linux ISOs all the time... *cough*cough*...

    • I think You're Lying Guy
      May 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      I think you're lying

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