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Explainer: How torrents work Add to ...

How torrents work

  1. User opens a Web page and clicks on a link for the file he wants.
  2. The user’s BitTorrent software communicates with a set of instructions called a “tracker” to find other computers running BitTorrent that have the complete file (called "seed computers") and those with a portion of the file ("peers" that are usually in the process of downloading the file).
  3. The tracker helps the user’s software trade pieces of the desired file with other computers.
  4. Instead of downloading content from a central location, BitTorrent users simultaneously upload and download tiny portions of a file to and from one another, creating a kind of "swarm." Because the BitTorrent technology relies on large amounts of users transmitting data to and from one another, there is no central server for spy agencies to access.

Illustration by Matthew Bambach

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