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Expect Torrential Downloads

With the constant threat of networks being shut down by court orders, a new file-sharing system tries to avoid the problems by assuring that individuals in the community will play a more important role.

While others struggle to develop an easier method for distributing bootleg content online, a 25-year-old developer has created a program that brings back an old system for keeping track of downloads.

Although one of its original planned uses was to provide companies with a better way of maintaining the amount of bandwidth processed through their Web servers, the program has emerged as one of the newest entries into the file-sharing field.

BitTorrent, as the program is called, takes a page from the world of bulletin board systems that depended on upload/download ratios for users. It requires that individuals contribute to the community by monitoring their traffic.

Unlike its predecessors in the file-sharing arena, BitTorrent is not a network or central program like Kazaa or Napster. It is best described as a protocol, or an agreed upon method of transferring information between computers.

Because it does not rely on a main program or server, BitTorrent instead uses small “tracker” files that maintain a list of all the users who are currently offering the file. Finding these files is the key to implementing the service.

These “tracker” files, also known as torrents, can be compared to a listing of the individual users who are sharing files on a typical file-sharing network. Much like the multi-user downloading function of other programs, the tracker first tries to check the validity of a file being offered by clients.

To utilize a tracker file, a BitTorrent client must be first installed. There are several incarnations of the main program, but the original one can be found at bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/.

Installing the basic client does very little in the way of placing shortcuts on the desktop or customization of options. The only indication that users have is that they are taken to a Web page that informs them that the program has been successfully installed.

After this set up process, users will need to find a tracker file and click on it to launch. The process can be likened to playing a shockwave game, in that there is no program seen for shockwave, but it still downloads content so it can be played.

Once a file is found and loaded into BitTorrent, the program goes about creating a hash file that assures that all the files being shared by individual users are the same size throughout. This process assures that no corrupted files are received.

As the program is assuring which users are OK to download from, it creates a dummy file that is equivalent to the size of the requested entry. This file is composed of ones and zeros and is useless until the download is complete.

This blank file is then filled in from other users who are sharing the file in its entirety or in parts. BitTorrent then connects to these seeds, as others sharing the file are known, and grabs chunks of the file.

While the download is taking place, BitTorrent is keeping track of the size of the file so that it can then allow others to grab the partially completed chunk from the host computer. By utilizing this method, there is very little bandwidth lost because users are constantly serving each other the file.

Herein lies one of the key factors involving downloads through the program: Download speeds are directly related to the participation of a host’s computer. In other words, the more of a file a person is sharing, the faster the transfer will go.

With the addition of this stipulation, the program has virtually eliminated the hated practice of “leeching” by numerous users. This technique is used by countless individuals who are more interested in downloading the files than putting themselves in harm’s way.

Essentially it is the virtual equivalent of moochers who take the files they want from other users without ever contributing to the network. By using BitTorrent individuals are forced to contribute or suffer slowdowns.

This could be a welcomed benefit for some, but for others it could be an inhibitor to participating in the community because it would put them within the prosecution-crosshairs of major industries such as the Recording Industry Association of America.

The reason for this fear is that, although it does not deal with a centralized server, BitTorrent still publishes the IP address of users who are generating traffic. An IP address is the number given to an Internet-connected computer whenever it signs online.

Although users may feel they are safe because of the anonymous nature of the site’s host torrent files, they must be aware that they are still being tracked by anyone who looks into the transfer window of their program.

A fear of being tracked came into the forefront of users of traditional file-sharing programs, when the RIAA began suing users it found sharing files. This practice led to many users leeching files and not sharing their own for fear of retribution.

It must be mentioned, though, that this threat in BitTorrent carries the same possibility of being caught as those found on other networks with their millions of users.

Risks aside, there is another aspect of using BitTorrent that may hinder its ability to become as widespread as others. This factor is the problem of finding sources that host tracker files.

Locating the files can be a bit difficult, if the user is searching for copyrighted material, such as movies, applications and games. This is because most of these sites are shut down once the companies hosting them are alerted to the presence.

This forces file-sharers to find other places to download files that may inevitably be shut down. There are two sites, though, that have withstood the watchful eye of those who are not content with watching pirated content being freely traded.

The first of these sites has escaped closure because it is dedicated to a popular BitTorrent use of sharing bootleg copies of a band’s concerts and other performances. Guests are given the opportunity to download live recording from a variety of artists in one convenient location.

Sharingthegroove.org has gained a mass following from file-traders are who are willing to share their recordings with others. Although there are some artists, such Alanis Morissette, who do not approve of the transfers, the majority of bands tend to not have a problem with the traders’ actions.

On the other side of the legality spectrum is Suprnova.org, which hosts a number of torrent files for illegally copied material, including games, TV shows and music.

Although there are numerous other sites that contain torrent files, Suprnova contains an expansive database that is updated daily with some of the newest releases in the worlds of gaming, applications, movies and more.

As an example, there is already a torrent available for the remake of John Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which debuted Friday.

Not the type to wait around and watch products illegally being traded, representatives from the Motion Picture Industry of America and the RIAA have mentioned that they are monitoring the traffic of BitTorrent sites, but have not thus far sought any legal remedies against its users.

Regardless of the amount of free files floating around the net, it may only be a matter of time before an injunction is filed against the proprietors of the sites. The only problem being, that although they may shut down the site, they are theoretically not accomplishing much.

This is because it’s only necessary for users to have a place where the location of torrent files can be discussed. This might force would-be traders into underground chat arenas such as internet relay chat, where illegal activity is common place.

bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/