Your Guide to Configuring and Using BitTorrent

The BitTorrent protocol has been out in the open for around seven years now, and in that time it’s become one of the most popular methods for distributing large files on the Internet. Despite futile efforts by the RIAA and MPAA to shut down file-sharing in all its forms, people both tech-savvy and computer illiterate are using it. A few major bands have even released lossless versions of their albums using BitTorrent.

Because so many of BitTorrent’s users are computer illiterate, and given the security features in modern computers and routers that interfere with BitTorrent’s speed effectiveness, very few people are actually using this protocol, and its associated applications, to its full potential. Here’s your guide to configuring your BitTorrent client, computer and router for the best possible speeds.

Disclaimer: I do not support nor endorse illegal downloading of copyrighted content. Respect the rights of the creator; if you’re a creator, consider licensing your work under Creative Commons.

BitTorrent Clients

There are countless BitTorrent clients, including the official multi-platform client from the protocol’s creator, BitComet and uTorrent for Windows and Xtorrent and Tomato Torrent for Mac. One of the most popular clients that also happens to be cross-platform is Azureus, and it’s my personal favorite, so I’ll be using Azureus as my guide in writing this tutorial. It’s free and open source.

Configuring Your Router

If you’re on a network (wireless or not) at home, using a router of any kind, you may be experiencing painstakingly slow downloads. This is because most routers have built-in firewalls that block incoming connections on certain ports, and you must specifically declare your ports and configure your router to accept connections on them.

Here’s how to do exactly that, assuming fairly standard router settings. If you have a router that doesn’t work with these instructions, a bit of Googling around will get you the answer.

1. Open your browser and head to 192.168.1.1 – this is almost always the router’s address on your network.

2. Log-in using the user name and password you set, or the default which is probably admin for both fields.

3. Look for a page called port forwarding, port range forwarding or something similar.

4. Add the port range under External Port (for instance, 9080 – 9090).

5. Enter your IP address. If you’re not sure what your IP address is, it’s a fairly easy number to find. On Windows:

  • Go to the Start Menu, then to Run, and type in cmd. Hit Enter.
  • Type IPCONFIG. Hit Enter. This will return a few lines of information, one of which will contain your IP address (clearly marked). Go to the router settings and add it in.

On Mac OS X (I’m using 10.5):

  • Go to System Preferences, then to Network. Your IP address will be on this page.

6. Tick the boxes for UDP, TCP and most importantly, the one that says Enable.

7. Head to your BitTorrent client’s preference or options page and enter the port number you’ve selected in the appropriate fields. There will most likely be one for both UDP and TCP.

Remember to save your router’s settings, or you will need to go through this process all over again if it gets reset. It’s never as fun the second time around!

Limit Your Maximum Upload Speed

DSL connections have finite capacity, and if you allow your BitTorrent client to use an unlimited amount of upload bandwidth, not only will your download suffer, but your regular surfing, chatting and email use will suffer too. Keep your connection usable and your downloads snappy by setting your maximum upload speed to a sensible level.

Remember, BitTorrent depends on each downloader doing some uploading. Never, ever shut uploads off all together, nor below a reasonable level. Give back what you take. You should also seed for a while one the download is complete – that is, keep uploading even after the download has finished. It’s considered proper etiquette to seed until your ratio is at least 1:1 – you’ve uploaded as much as you’ve downloaded.

Since the right maximum upload speed will be different for each connection, you’ll have to work yours out. Down in the land of slow broadband, my torrents have a maximum upload of 18kb/s, and then unlimited when seeding. The right speed is usually 80% of your upload capability.

Fortunately for you, there’s an upload speed calculator here.

Windows XP Specific Configurations

If you’re on Windows, configuring your BitTorrent client has its own set of problems. First, we’ll have to configure the Windows Firewall if you’ve got it on.

1. Go to Network Connections and right click on your Internet or LAN connection, and click on Properties.

2. Select Advanced and see if Internet Connection Firewall is ticked. If it’s not, you don’t need to do anything. If it is, click through to Settings.

3. Click on the Services tab and press Add. Fill these fields in just as you did in the router, but choose TCP.

If you’re using Internet Connection Sharing, you’ll need to download this tool and configure it using the same information that you used when configuring the router and the XP firewall.

If you’re on Windows XP Service Pack 2, your half-open outbound connections is severely limited, and this tends to slow your BitTorrent speeds down, too. You can use this tool to fix that problem.

Protect Your Privacy

In numerous cases, RIAA and MPAA bots have tracked IP addresses of those using BitTorrent and wrongly accused them of piracy. This can happen where they track IP addresses on legitimate and legal torrents, for instance. One of the beauties of Azureus is its wide range of plugins and one that will protect your privacy by blocking connections from RIAA and MPAA computers is SafePeer.

If you use Azureus, you’d be wise to download and install this plugin, and keep the block list up to date, since the agents of the evil empire are always changing tactics and IP addresses.

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