Trouble with torrents

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about my initial experiences of using a BitTorrent client for peer-to-peer file sharing, which, contrary to popular belief, is not only exclusively used for illegal content distribution. The trouble is, that I’ve found it difficult to get going with BitTorrent as a content distribution mechanism. My download speeds were very slow and certain clients seemed to prevent any of my computers from using my Internet connection. I tried a few clients (BitTorrent, Azureus and Xtorrent – all on the Mac, although BitTorrent and Azureus are available for other platforms too) and it looks as though I finally have a configuration that works.

My ISP does traffic shape to reduce the impact of P2P traffic but does not aggressively prohibit P2P traffic; having said that I moved away from the standard ports and picked something up high (above 10000) to avoid any issues.

Using BitTorrent, there was an element of doubt as to whether I had a working connection – peers seemed to be disconnecting me as though I was leeching (clearly I have to download something before I can make it available to upload) and I do use a NAT router (which can complicate things). One of the best features in the Azureus client is the traffic light system that it uses for various elements including share ratio and NAT traversal – I had a green light for NAT, but the share ratio was always red/amber so I struggled to get a decent download speed.

I heard on the Macbreak Weekly review of the Apple TV how Xtorrent is a very simple to use BitTorrent client for OS X and after trying it out I’m blown away with how simple it has been in comparison to the other clients that I tried. I’ve been trying to download a 1.3GB file for days now using Azureus and, because of the problem whereby it seems to hog my Internet connection (despite following advice for good connection parameters), I could only run it when I didn’t need to use the network (i.e. at night). Even so, after two nights, I had only managed to retrieve a measly 0.1% of the file. I’ve been using Xtorrent for a few hours now, have most of the file downloaded and have seen transfer speeds as high as 300Kbps (2.4Mbps), but there is a catch – after an hour, downloads are capped at 10Kbps (although the warning says 10kbps – i.e. 8 times slower) and search results are randomly disabled. I’ve also noticed (but cannot confirm) that connection speeds drop significantly if Xtorrent is not the active application.

The search is not such a big deal (all it seems to do is append “torrent” to the supplied query and submit that search to Google and Yahoo! using an embedded browser window) but the “all sales are final” notice at the bottom of the web page and the aggressive registration message when the application is running, combined with no mention of the free version’s limitations on the website do not exactly fill me with confidence about the product (the website encourages download of the $20 pro edition but does not mention that the standard version is limited – in reality there is a free, limited, trial and the full, registered, product is $20 with no “pro” features, it’s just an unlimited version). Xtorrent may well have been “hand-crafted with care” but it’s only just out of beta and there seem to be so many issues to consider with BitTorrent clients that I want to be 100% certain this is the right client for me before parting with cash.

As it happens, I probably will buy Xtorrent, as it seems incredibly simple to use, had no problem using the port I’d previously opened (and verified using Shields UP!) for Azureus, seems to work well, includes RSS integration, allows browsing of file content prior to download and lets me set bandwidth limits according to the time of day and how busy my computer is. All in all, the user experience is excellent – I just wish that the website was a little more upfront about the limitations of the free download.

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