Torrent

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                        An Encyclopedia of Media Objects
                                  
    Upped By..........: Marlon
    Release Date .....: 04/04/2013            
    File Size.........: X Kb   
             
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A ".torrent" represents a bundle of files shared between users in a peer-to-peer network. This entry isn't just about the BitTorrent protocol that enables this, but about the community surrounding it: the swarm of seeders and leechers and the content they're sharing, distributing and archiving together. Some of this (illegal) content is found via index websites that have attracted the attention of anti-piracy organizations, less mainstream and rarer material is found on sites that are so closed-off that they require invitation-only memberships. The open source protocol is in constant develop-ment and has generated a large amount of clients or tools, some of which have completely decentralized the system.


Vuze.png
Vuze, a BitTorrent client, visualizes the peer-to-peer connections while downloading.

  Û²Û===========================  I N D E X  =============================Û²Û
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		 1.  BitTorrent Protocol
		
		 	  1.1  The Decentralized Revolution
		 	  1.2  Tribler
			  1.3  Distributing	
			  1.4  Archiving Geocities
			  1.5  New Years Resolution

		 2.  The Swarm
			 
			  2.1  Occupy Swarm
			  2.2  The Pirate Bay
			  2.3  Releasers and .NFO files

		 3. Trackers
			
			  3.1 Hit & Run

                 4. Sources
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  Û²Û=====================================================================Û²Û

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  º  1.             B i t T o r r e n t   P r o t o c o l                  º
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The protocol that supports this peer-to-peer file sharing, BitTorrent, was created by Bram Cohen in 2001. It includes a peer protocol, wherein peers connections are symmetrical, so data can flow in both directions. A file is split up into fixed-size pieces and "leechers" start downloading these pieces from the source (a "seeder") in a random order. Each piece is protected by a cryptographic hash which can detect a change in the data. "When a peer finishes downloading a piece and checks that the hash matches, it announces that it has that piece to all of its peers." This way it is quite possible for the original seeder to only distribute the file once, where it can then reach an unlimited group of peers, the "swarm".


Matrixascii.png
(A torrent called The Matrix ASCII has been alive since before Youtube.)


This makes the protocol so succesful, as a file can stay alive and active for a long time. A torrent called "The Matrix ASCII" has been available since December 2003. Back when Facebook didn't exist yet.

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   | 1.1 "The Decentralized Revolution"					   |
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BitTorrent is branded, and often regarded, as an example of decentralized peer-to-peer file sharing technology. But central servers still play an active role when it comes to downloading content via torrents. Users still rely heavily on BitTorrent search engines and indexes, like the the Pirate Bay or isoHunt. Central servers and those who moderate them are extremely useful in keeping the amount of spam or malware to a minimum. Researchers of the Department of Computer Science, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands conducted a test where they tried their hardest to polute (the now closed) torrent distribution site Suprnova, by inserting fake files from different accounts and different computers. "We failed; the moderators filtered out our fake files."

The protocol still relies on trackers to manage most of the downloads, by finding peers and coordinating the download process. Tracker-less alternatives like DHT, which keeps torrents alive between peers even when the web based tracker goes down, often require a central server to get the torrent going. [link]Some websites have their own tracker server, allowing users to upload torrents to their index. They're often used to seperate different kind of niches for alternative or specific content, creating communities of like-minded users.

Progress has been made to decentralize the system. The "decentralized torrent revolution" could possible be a direct result of the growing concern within the file sharing community. The "attack" on The Pirate Bay, the arrests of Kim Dotcom and his associates have made developers and users aware of the risks and cautious of copyright infringement. There is a need for alternatives that assure anonimity and zero censorship.

"[...] ideally BitTorrent downloads should no longer require a central server. P2P technology should not only facilitate the downloading and sharing process, but also the searching and storage of torrent files."

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   | 1.2 Tribler					                   |
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Tribler logo1.png

The Tribler P2P file sharing system is "a set of extensions to BitTorrent", which was designed as an alternative to known (P2P) file sharing systems that are, in their words, not properly focusing on the community of users as a powerful "social phenomena". The focus has been on technical issues, where instead it should be on friendship, sense of community and trust: what do these nodes have in common?

Designed by the same team that failed to corrupt Suprnova, headed by J.A. Pouwelse, it is named after the word tribe and prefers to refer to users as social powers. Possibly influenced by the psychological model of the ingroup, Tribler depends on the interaction between users. Tribler has no central elements in its system, a user searches for downloads amongst his peers. Not only do taste buddies help find related content for each other, but the idea of belonging to a group could alleviate free-riding and exploitation. When it comes to spam and malware, Tribler trusts in 'survival of the fittest': users will filter this content out simply by pushing it down in search results, as the majority of users will prefer familiar channels.

The biggest claim that the team of Tribler makes is that due to its pure peer-to-peer nature it is impossible to take down by governments or anti-piracy organisations. “The only way to take it down is to take The Internet down.” Pouwelse told TorrentFreak.

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   | 1.3 Distributing					                   |
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The BitTorrent protocol has been the subject of debate about legal issues from the start. Nothing about the protocol is illegal, as trackers or indexes do not host any copyrighted content but are merely facilitating the file sharing process between users.

Besides the ability to download and share illegal content, BitTorrent is also a vehicle used for publishing or distributing legal content. Examples are software updates or patches, "free-to-share" episodes or full series of tv shows, tax money details in the UK or data shared with researchers at a university. Facebook and Twitter already use BitTorrent to distribute updates: "With their BitTorrent-powered distribution system Facebook is now able to send a few hundred MB to tens of thousands of machines in just one minute. The internal Facebook swarm turns every server into a peer that helps in distributing the new code, which gets it updated as quickly as possible. Without BitTorrent this process could take several hours to complete."

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   | 1.4 Archiving Geocities   		                                   |
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Geocities.png

The Internet Archive, a digital library that aims to archive "as much of the public web as possible", has worked with BitTorrent to make more than one petabyte of public-domain content available via peer-to-peer file sharing.

Geocities.com was the go-to place in the late 90's to host your first attempts at creating websites for free. Founded in 1994, users were required to select a "city" or "neighbourhoods" (like Tokyo for "Far East-related topics, including anime"), to upload the content of their websites. At the height of its popularity in 1999, near the dot-com bubble peak, Yahoo! purchased Geocities. They introduced premium accounts for a fee, limited data transfers and claimed ownership of all uploaded content. Users left as fast as they could.

When in 2009 Yahoo announced they would close Geocities, the Archive Team - "a collective of rogue archivists" - attempted to rescue all the Geocities' data they could. Using GNU Wget "to within an inch of its life", they've collected 640GB of data from Geocities, and offered it for download via a torrent.

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   | 1.5 New Years Resolution  		                                   |
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BitTorrent's New Years resolution for 2013 is "to align itself with the entertainment industry and legally distribute movies, music and books online." Executive director of marketing Matt Mason has said that the company has been "grooming" the entertainment industry, with the hopes that they'll start to consider BitTorrent as a partner. “We’re already the pipes and we’re good at it." Moreover, BitTorrent hopes that the new developments will decrease the amount of illegal downloading of movies and music.

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  º  2.                      T h e   S w a r m                             º
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Escher.gif


In order to download a file, you have to connect to your peers, become part of the "swarm". And in some cases, downloading a file also means sharing a file, to maintain a preferred ratio of 1:1, obeying the "golden rule" to keep good karma by not just leeching, but seeding a file as well.

BitTorrent's peer protocol makes it possible for a swarm to consist of a large number of peers, the largest swarm recorded, 'Heroes.S03E01.HDTV.XviD-0TV' was formed by 144,663 peers.

In a 2010 case titled "Liberty Media Holdings, LLC v. Swarm of November 16, 2010 et al.", Liberty Media and their lawyer tried to sue an entire BitTorrent swarm made up of 95 peers. The evidence that was provided included a list of each leecher, their IP address and the time and date they joined the swarm.

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   | 2.1 Occupy Swarm     		                                   |
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Protestswarm.jpg

Rick Falkvinge, of Sweden's Pirate Party, has compared the BitTorrent swarms that download illegal content to the swarms that occupied Wall Street. Almost decentralised groups taking over old and centralised bureaucracies: "What could be observed as a movement of bits using BitTorrent, being a decentralised, resilient reaction against a corporate stranglehold on culture, has grown to become a movement of people in all of society, rejecting the notion that centralised structures have any power to stop people who decide to do good. The insight that there are no limits but those within you is causing mental handcuffs to drop in slow motion all over the West."

Image: After the forced closure of trackers in Bulgaria, a group of protesters created a 'human swarm' on March 15th, 2007. These trackers did not actually break any Bulgarian law, as they were hosted in the United States.
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   | 2.2 The Pirate Bay     		                                   |
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Kungen.jpg

When discussing BitTorrent, The Pirate Bay is almost always mentioned in the same sentence. Launched in 2003, it is the most well known torrent indexer on the internet. Their popularity and exposure has resulted in raids, arrests and jail sentences for the founders, prompted by allegations of copyright violations. Although banned in many countries, the index is still available via many proxies.

"Ok, so they forced your ISP to block ThePirateBay.... Did they think that you would simply curl up and die? LOL!.... "Error - site blocked"?.... Welcome shipmates, to Pirate Bay Proxy List!"

Karel Bilek, prepared for a worse case scenario where Pirate Bay may be closed down forever, compiled the almost two million magnet links that make up the website. Stored in XML-format, the compressed file is only 75mb in size and makes it possible to recreate The Pirate Bay if necessary. It took him half a year to download the information, using a script he has made available on github, because Pirate Bay blocked him for acting like an "evil attacker or something".

"For me, Pirate Bay is not just the torrents, but mainly the additional information - how fake is the file? What can I really expect inside?" Bilek used the information he gathered to generate graphs, hoping to find some interesting facts about peer behaviour, popular torrent files or file types. He found out that more than one third of the torrents have no seeders, and even worse: more than 3/4 of the torrents have 4 seeders or less.

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   | 2.3 Releasers and .NFO files		                           |
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Releasers (or release groups) of illegal content can be recognized by the pseudonyms added to file-names and .NFO files found in the content list of a download. Wellknown releasers gain quite a reputation, if what they're provided meets a certain standard. This can be misused by individuals, dressing up trojans with these pseudonyms to distract downloaders.


Nfo.jpg


Pirated content is often accompanied by a .NFO file with useful information about the downloaded file, like subtitle information and installation instructions. They're an interesting cross between a straight-forward readme file and a personalized business card, used to inform you of the release group behind the content. Their 90's aesthetics, often including ASCII-art, show their origin in the warez scene (The Scene), where .NFO files were used as a sort of press release.

Back in the early PC days information contained in the .NFO files was both to inform the user, but also for release groups to list their BBS phone numbers - hoping to attract a larger group of users and content. Using .NFO files added only a few bytes to a release, as file size was critically important in dial-up days.

"Piracy was about distribution and sharing, so no one wanted unnecessary baggage in a warez release as it took longer to redistribute."

Currently, adding an .NFO file is still a very prominent tradition within the file sharing subculture. Though they've become somewhat redundant, they have nostalgic value and are still used as a way of 'branding' your group. Although technically they contain zero copyrighted content, websites that have tried to archive the enormous amount of .NFO files are frequently removed from Google by automated anti-piracy crawlers, notably those by Microsoft. Simply because these crawlers are unable to tell the difference between a pirated movie and 5kb text-file.

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  º  3.                       T r a c k e r s                             º
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Invitetxt.png

BitTorrent uses trackers, servers that centrally coordinate the transfer of files. They often run on websites, like thepiratebay.org or demonoid.com, and are the one critical point of the BitTorrent protocol: for a few seconds the download client communicates with the tracker, after which peers can share files without the tracker.

Popular trackers are often public, everyone can connect to the swarm, seeding isn't mandatory and the files you'll find are mainstream. But if you're looking for something special (or even high quality) it might be more worthwhile to look into private trackers. Private trackers are all about ratio, you must at least upload as much as you download, sometimes more. Unlike public BitTorrent sites, private ones have more seeders than leechers. Moderators within these communities can be very strict.

Within this free and open world of trading with peers, these private tracker sites exhibit quite a lot of rules and regulations. They're hard to get in to, as they are often invite-only or require interviews. A sense of hype exists around these communities, they're the place to find that extremely rare piece of content, like an unknown foreign film or they offer download categories called 'Rope', 'Rings' and 'Levitation'. [1] There are options for those who were unable to obtain a membership: you can buy an invitation online. [2]

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   | 3.1 Hit & Run     		                                           |
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"A ‘Hit & Run’ (or H&R) is when someone joins a private tracker, and downloads as much as they can before making off without uploading to a proper ratio. While this practice is frowned upon even on public sites such as mininova.org, it is deplorable to private sites. This can (and sometimes will) lead to your IP address being banned from the site – forever." (TorrentFreak)

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  º  4.                       S o u r c e s                               º
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