Torrenting, also known as peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, is an important tool for online life, but frequently gets a bad rap. Privacy Journal can show you what torrenting can do for you, and help you choose the best virtual private network (VPN) to stay private while file sharing.

What Is Torrenting?

Although it’s often connected with criminal piracy, torrenting as a technology isn’t inherently shady. “Torrenting” is simply a method of downloading large files by breaking them into chunks and spreading them throughout a decentralized network. Technically, every computer on the network holds a tiny piece of every file it’s used to share.

When a user downloads the file, all the chunks combine again, forming a complete file on the downloader’s device. That’s where the name comes from: the files are like many small trickles of water, combining into a great torrent.

See the following guide for more information:

Torrenting Clients

Torrenting requires a client app to manage your access to the peer-to-peer network. BitTorrent is the most popular, named after the best-known file sharing protocol, but many users choose alternatives like qBitTorrent and uTorrent. These clients can download torrent files from many different sources.

While your torrenting client is active, your device can be used to host files on the network. Giving out space this way is called “seeding,” while actively downloading is called “leeching.” Peer-to-peer networks often reward users for seeding more than they leech, usually with faster download speeds.

Torrenting has plenty of real-world use cases. Twitter and Facebook both use it to move large files internally, and online gaming companies like Blizzard torrent major updates to players. You can torrent public-domain movies and music from several sources online.

With all that said, torrenting is also useful for video and music piracy, since it’s very difficult for authorities to trace files from one system to another. Downloading copyright-protected materials without paying is at least a misdemeanor, and penalties can get more severe if you share the materials with others.

That, plus the fact that websites like The Pirate Bay are often the best sources for torrent files, contributes to the sketchy reputation of P2P file sharing. A sketchy reputation is one thing, but it can create real problems even for those who haven’t broken any laws.

ISPs & Torrenting

Internet service providers rarely distinguish between legitimate and criminal BitTorrent traffic, so even straight-up users can get slapped with bandwidth throttling, cease-and-desist letters and potential legal penalties.

In many cases, ISPs hand the identities of suspected torrenters to copyright trolls, who dog them with lawsuit threats no matter what actual crimes (if any) have occurred.

Use a VPN While Torrenting

For that reason, all of us at Privacy Journal strongly recommend that you never use any torrenting client without a VPN active. If you mask your IP address before you join a P2P network, you can’t be associated with any torrenting activity, and can’t face any guilt-by-association consequences.

The following articles make it easy for you to choose the perfect torrenting VPN. We’ll tell you which VPNs allow torrenting and which ones are optimized for it, and get you on your way to fast, convenient and safe peer-to-peer sharing.

How to Torrent With Your VPN

Learn how to use your VPN for torrenting with the following guides.

Check out these other torrenting-related guides for more information.