What is a Torrent, and how do I use them on Ubuntu?


2 Answers 2


The BitTorrent protocol is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol used for distributing large amounts of data. The big file is broken down into smaller parts and it automatically fetches parts from multiple hosts at once. It also shares the parts you've already downloaded with others, so that everybody shares and benefits.

The technology itself is perfectly legal, but it has been debated if its implementation in connection with copyrighted material or otherwise illegal material makes the issuer of the bittorrent file, as opposed to the copyrighted material itself, liable as an accomplice or infringer.

It is a good way to download Ubuntu iso releases, especially when the regular release sites are slow, since it actually gets faster when there are lots of users downloading and sharing at once.

Here is how you can use BitTorrent in Ubuntu, starting in 10.04 (the instructions might change slightly in each release, but the basic idea is the same).

For this example, I'll be using the Ubuntu 11.04 Desktop ISO - but anything that has a .torrent extension will work following these instructions.

Open up a Web Browser (For more on what Web browsers are available for Ubuntu, take a look at this question,

Then, you'll need to download your .torrent file and save it to disk.

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If this is your first time running Transmission (the default BitTorrent client in Ubuntu) then you'll be confronted with the following box - think long and hard if you agree to it

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Then you'll need to click the "Open" button and navigate to your .torrent

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Sit back and relax while the torrent downloads.

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After the download completes, it is often considered good etiquette to continue to seed the file until you reach a 1.00 ratio. Please be aware that if you have a monthly quota many ISPs count uploads against your total bandwidth.

  • 7
    Also see, upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/… for a very crude demonstration about how it works.
    – user606723
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 15:15
  • @user606723, I wouldn't say it's crude - it's simple and to the point. I haven't seen any other piece, graphical or otherwise, that explains P2P better.
    – Oxwivi
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 17:32
  • Oxwivi, but in a technical and real world sense, it's completely inaccurate. Torrents don't behave like that. It is, however, a good demonstration explaining the vague concept of bittorrent to someone.
    – user606723
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 21:37

A recent Federal Court of Australia judgement I read had a fantastic explanation of BitTorrent.

Content removed due to copyright issues. See the link above: Part B, paragraphs 56-77

  • 3
    I hate to have to ask this: do you have permission from the copyright holders to publish this here?
    – Flimm
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 18:58
  • 4
    Yes. Australian Federal Court judgements have a broad license permitting reproduction: fedcourt.gov.au/aboutsite/copyright.html
    – scottl
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 13:29
  • Thanks for the prompt reply. I'm afraid it's pretty clear from that link that relicensing it under cc-wiki is not allowed. cc-wiki allows people to distribute derivatives, whereas that copyright notice doesn't. (Everything you post here is automatically licensed under cc-wiki, see the link at the bottom of this page.)
    – Flimm
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 16:12
  • 9
    And this is a clear case why Patents and Copyrights are dumb. Limiting one to knowledge about anything is dumb. Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 1:33

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