Saturday, 18 June 2016

Download any video from the web

Download any video from the web

Torrents aren’t all dubious, dangerous downloads – they have many legal uses, too. Wayne Williams explains everything you need to know about downloading videos using BitTorrent

Today there are more ways than ever to stream and download videos from the internet, but BitTorrent is still one of the easiest no-cost options. The peer-topeer file-sharing protocol has been helping web users grab films, TV programmes and other large files since 2001. Despite court orders making torrent sites harder to access, ISPs throttling download speeds and some BitTorrent software bundling nasty extras (uTorrent once included a sneaky Bitcoin-mining tool), torrenting is still incredibly popular, with an estimated 250 million users worldwide.

We tell you everything you need to know about BitTorrent, including how to find and download any video you want. We explain how it works and how to get the most from it, and reveal some of the best (and more unusual) BitTorrent clients.

We also look at the risks you might be taking by downloading copyrighted content. Remember that, despite its reputation, BitTorrent itself isn’t illegal, and neither is using the platform. It’s what you do with it that could potentially land you in hot water.


What is BitTorrent?

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing method that you can use to download pretty much anything, from music and videos to software and games. It was originally created by a programmer called Bram Cohen.

What software do I need to download torrents?

All you need is a BitTorrent client. You can use either the official program (from or one of the many alternatives that are available. We list our favourites below.

Before you can begin downloading a file, you need to find and download the torrent file or magnet link for it. A torrent is a small data file, with the extension ‘.torrent’, which contains information about the item you want, including the name of the content, its length and how many parts it comes in. The torrent also contains the URL of the tracker – this is the host computer that coordinates the file sharing.

How does it work?

When you download a file from a normal website, you grab the whole thing from that one location. BitTorrent works in a different way, and instead downloads separate pieces from all over the place. The file you want is divided into tiny data fragments, typically around 256KB each, and then shared among everyone who is downloading it.

The BitTorrent client reads the tiny torrent file or magnet link, connects to the relevant tracker and then, in turn, is connected to the ‘swarm’. That’s the name given to the group of computers that are sharing the file. The swarm is made up of ‘seeds’ (computers that have the complete download to share) and ‘peers’ (computers that have some of the file but are still downloading the rest). The larger the swarm, the faster the download will be.

BitTorrent only trades pieces with users who have something to give in return, much like swapping football stickers. You give a fellow sharer a piece of the data they want, and in return they give you some of the data you want. If they stop sharing the pieces with you, you stop sharing the pieces with them.

Rather than just downloading random bits here and there, the software prioritises the rarest parts of the file to avoid a situation where everyone’s downloads end up stuck at 99%. Most BitTorrent clients let you tweak the priority, so you can download the files you want most first.

The speed of your downloads is linked to the speed of your uploads, so if you throttle your upload rate, your downloads will also be slower. Oddly, using your full upload capacity also slows your downloads a little – we’ll explain why later.

What is a ‘magnet link’?

When BitTorrent first appeared, you needed a ‘.torrent’ file to get the download you required, but magnet links have become more popular in recent years. These do the same thing as ‘.torrent’ files, but you don’t need to download anything. Just click the magnet link and your BitTorrent client should spring into life and start downloading.

Is torrenting legal?

As we mentioned in the introduction to this feature, using BitTorrent is perfectly legal. It’s nothing more than a system for downloading and sharing large files over the internet. It’s what you choose to download with the software that could potentially break the law. If you download copyright-free files, including classic and independent films, open-source programs and game demos, or files that are intended to be shared, such as movie trailers, TV promos and amusing videos, you won’t be breaking any laws. However, if you download a new blockbuster movie or the latest episode of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, that’s a different matter entirely.

Will I get caught by the fuzz?

It’s highly unlikely. Millions of people download content over torrents without ever running into problems with the law. Occasionally, copyright holders clamp down on illegal downloaders, requesting your details from your ISP and threatening you (and your internet provider) with big fines. Shady legal firms have also been known to send out threatening letters designed to intimidate you into paying a fine for a file you may or may not have downloaded, so the risk – however slight – is a real one.

But is it safe?

If you use common sense and stick to downloading torrent files only from major torrent sites, you should be safe enough. Comments and ratings from other users should help steer you away from bad torrents, but that may not always be the case, so it pays to exercise caution.

There are certainly plenty of files on the internet that pretend to be something they’re not. If you download a video file that won’t play because it claims you don’t have the right codecs (the software that encodes and decodes a media file), for example, the file is probably not the movie you were hoping for but a large fake file designed to trick you into downloading malware. Certain BitTorrent clients allow you to stream videos as they download, which should help you avoid fully downloading a fake movie file. Be sure to scan the finished item with a reliable, up-to-date antivirus program before you open it, just to be safe.


Don’t just install the first torrenting tool you find on Google, because it may be riddled with malware. Instead, try one of these safe and reliable recommendations

Tixati (

Lightweight but packed with features and very easy to use, Tixati is one of the best free torrent tools around. It offers all the features you’ll find in better-known programs such as uTorrent but without any of the bundled junk that plagues that particular client. Tixati can handle torrent files and magnet links, and provides a detailed view of your downloads that includes peers, pieces, files and trackers. It also lets you stream files while you’re downloading them, share large files of your own as quickly as possible and even chat with other users.

Torrents MultiSearch (

Torrents MultiSearch, or TMS for short, is a handy extension for Chrome (as well as Firefox and Opera) that lets you search for torrents across multiple sites. The extension comes with 40 torrent trackers (sites) built in, and you can add plenty more. Launch the app and click any of the suggested choices to start downloading the file, or search for a particular video by name.

Torch Browser (

This Chromium-based web browser comes with a handy BitTorrent client built in, so you can browse for torrents and download them directly without needing to install any extensions. To manage your downloads in the browser, simply click the Torrent button at the top of the interface. Torch Browser also comes with a built-in media grabber that allows you to download video and audio content from sites as you browse the web.

WebTorrent Desktop (

WebTorrent Desktop is a torrent client for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux that lets you stream videos while they’re downloading. You can start streaming a torrent immediately (although there’s a brief pause while it downloads the parts of the file it needs), and a meter shows you how the download is progressing. If the video is downloading too slowly for smooth streaming, you can pause playback while it fetches more of the file.

TorrentRover (

Finding good, reliable torrents to download can be tricky, because some of the better sites have been banned by the UK courts for copyright infringement and not all torrents are what they claim to be. TorrentRover helps you find the downloads you’re after by running your query through all the major BitTorrent sites, including The Pirate Bay, KickAss Torrents, IsoHunt, BitSnoop and Extra Torrent. The best matches appear at the top of the results, but they may not all be available in the UK. You can get round this problem by using a VPN.

Transmission (

Originally available only for Mac OS X and Linux computers, the popular Transmission client now has an official Windows version. Unlike many torrent tools, this free, full-featured software is supplied without any annoying bundled extras or adverts.

At the time of writing, the Windows download was tucked away on the Files page at, but it should be available on the main Transmission website soon. Scroll to the bottom of the list and locate the relevant version for your PC. If you have a 64-bit computer, you’ll need the file with the suffix ‘x64.msi’. For 32-bit systems, grab the x86.msi version.

The OS X version of Transmission was hacked in March and, for a brief period, started spreading KeRanger ransomware. It’s now clean, and the Windows version was never affected.

Tribler (

Although Tribler can’t protect you from every prying eye, this open-source program offers a greater degree of anonymity than other, similar tools when you’re browsing and downloading torrents. This means you can stop your ISP and other nosy parkers seeing what you’re up to. It’s still a work in progress but is updated regularly, with useful features including built-in torrent search and video streaming.


Torrents are best-known (and mostly used) for sharing TV shows and films, but they also let you download videos without breaching copyright and potentially getting yourself in trouble. Here are our favourite legal uses

Share large files using BitTorrent Sync

BitTorrent Sync ( is a peer-to-peer file-synchronisation tool for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux that’s based on the official BitTorrent client but has a more innocuous purpose. It’s designed to make it easy for users to share and sync large files between devices on a local network, and to send them securely between  remote computers over the internet. Unlike cloud services such as Dropbox, it establishes a direct connection between devices, with no limits on file sizes and transfer speeds. As we were going to press, it was announced that BitTorrent has sold Sync to a company called Resilio, which will rebrand it Connect. Aside from the name change, the program remains the same, with free and paid-for versions.

Download films from the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive has an extensive torrents section (, which is home to nearly 16 million items from its collection. These include more than 2.5 million items from the Moving Image Archive and over 21,000 films including full-length feature films, shorts, concerts, movie trailers and home movies. Even if you only ever download torrents from here, you’ll never be short of something interesting to watch.

You can also download free classic films and B-movies from Public Domain Torrents ( and get indie movies from Vodo (

Download legal ‘bundles’ of videos

In a bid to be seen as more than just a means of downloading illegal content, BitTorrent has started offering original and legal content in the form of bundles ( These are a mixed selection of music and video. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke released a new album as a paid-for BitTorrent Bundle, for example, and the BBC offers an official digital Doctor Who box set called A Decade of the Doctor ( The file-sharing firm’s first original TV series, Children of the Machine, was supposed to have been released last year (as a free, ad-supported BitTorrent Bundle or a paid-for ad-free version), but it has gone quiet on that front.

Chat privately with BitTorrent Bleep

Bleep ( is a peer-to-peer chat tool that allows you to communicate securely with friends by text or voice. Unlike some ‘secure’ chat services, Bleep messages are fully encrypted from end to end and are only ever stored directly on your PC, Mac, Android or iOS device. You don’t have to provide any personal identification to use it, and BitTorrent doesn’t know who is calling who, or even when communications take place.


Whatever you’re using BitTorrent to do, there are always ways you can download files more quickly and safely. Here are five of the most useful torrent tricks

Unblock banned torrent sites

Downloading torrents from the web used to be very easy, but in recent years the courts have been clamping down on sites that link to them, and the likes of The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents and TorrentBytes are now blocked in the UK. Of course, there are plenty of other torrent sites you can track down using Google, but they may not be safe to use. If you prefer to stick with a well-known site such as The Pirate Bay, you can get around the block either by using the secure HTTPS address (currently, although it may change), or a VPN tool such as TunnelBear ( Just remember that the free versions of VPNs limit the amount of data you can download in a month, and video files can be massive.

Speed up your torrent downloads

The golden rule when using BitTorrent is ‘the more you upload, the more you can download’. That’s only true up to a point, however. If your uploads reach their maximum speed, your download speeds will suffer due to the way TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) works. Use your BitTorrent client to limit your maximum upload speed to around 75%. Disguising your downloads so that your ISP doesn’t know you’re using BitTorrent can help, too.

Conceal your torrent traffic

They might deny it, but many ISPs automatically throttle BitTorrent downloads, which prevents you from getting the speeds you should. BitTorrent clients such as uTorrent ( can disguise BitTorrent traffic, making it less obvious to your ISP. To turn the feature on, go to Options, BitTorrent and select Enabled in the Outgoing box under Protocol Encryption. It’s also worth changing the default port, which you can do in Options, Connection.

Other BitTorrent clients offer similar options for disguising your traffic, so it’s worth hunting around in their settings.

Avoid being a ‘leech’

BitTorrent is about file ‘sharing’. However, for every person who shares a file, there are multiple users who don’t share anything. Referred to as leeches, these users search for the item they want, download it and then move it elsewhere so no-one can download it from them. This, understandably, is bad form. What’s supposed to happen is that once you’ve finished downloading something, you become a seeder (a process that occurs automatically). Seeders upload pieces of the finished file to peers with fast upload speeds, who can distribute them more effectively to other users. Although the BitTorrent system can function with only peers (provided all those peers have the full data set between them), seeders are essential to ensure any gaps that appear are quickly filled and essentially keep everything going. You should try to seed an item you’ve downloaded for at least a couple of days.

Schedule your downloads

It’s a good idea to control when your downloads happen, because you can choose a time when your internet connection is at its least congested – such as in the middle of the night. Most popular download tools offer scheduling options. Tixati, in particular, has some very advanced scheduling settings. You should find the scheduling options under Settings or Preferences in your BitTorrent client.