Let’s BitTorrent!

Update on January 2, 2005: I’ve concluded this little BitTorrent experiment, removed the download link, and shut down our tracker. Thanks for playing.

After settling down to a general consensus that the 1940 film His Girl Friday is in the public domain, and operating on the assumption that this means that it can be freely and openly shared with any and all, I’ve decided to run a little BitTorrent experiment.

What is BitTorrent? Simply put, it’s a handy way for making really large files available over the Internet without placing the bandwidth burden on a single server.

If I took the 269MB MPEG file of His Girl Friday and simply put in on my webserver for anyone to download, then every single copy that was downloaded would travel from my server to the downloader’s client, sucking up a lot of my bandwidth in the process.

Using BitTorrent, each person downloading the file also becomes an uploader of the file at the same time, thus sharing the load. I “seed” the network with a complete copy of the downloadable file, and every time there’s a new request to download it, each downloader obtains little bits of the file from all of the other people downloading at the same time.

Want to try?

First, go here and download a “BitTorrent client.” Clients are available for Mac, PC and Linux.

Once you’ve installed BitTorrent, download this HisGirlFriday.mp4.torrent file (removed link 2005-01-02), save it on your desktop, and then open it with your BitTorrent client. You should then see something like this:

That’s how it looks on a Mac; it will look different, but conceptually similar, on a Windows or Linux machine. What you see is the name of the file being downloaded and uploaded (HisGirlFriday.mp4), an estimate of the time remaining (25 minutes at this point), the number of “peers” (i.e. fellow download/uploaders working right now), and the portion of the file downloaded so far (111 MiB of 269 MiB at this point). On the right you see, a measure of the amount and rate of the upload to others (top) and the download from others (bottom).

It’s considered polite to leave your BitTorrent client running even after you’ve downloaded 100% of the file: this lets you continue to act as a peer for others, therein making the network broader and the impact on any one node less.

You can see some information about the BitTorrent “tracker” itself (the application running on my server that is a sort of “switching station” for all BitTorrent clients looking to join the swarm) on this page: you’ll see information about the number of clients that have 100% of the file, the number who are actively downloading, and the total number who have downloaded.

If you decide to jump in, let me know how it goes.

Amateur legal notice: His Girl Friday may or may not be in the public domain where you live; as such, you should only download it if you’re confident that it is.


Pete Prodoehl's picture
Pete Prodoehl on December 9, 2004 - 19:59 Permalink

Two things to mention… Some clients are cross platform, like Azureus, so they’ll look *almost* the same on all platforms. ;)

Also, I believe that in using BitTorrent, the upload may be limited by firewalls/blocked ports. I seem to remember opening up some ports to properly use BitTorrent. (The BitTorrent FAQ should have the answers to that.)