2/23/08 – NEW UPDATED TORRENT TUTORIAL IS LOCATED HERE.
Want to download free music albums, DVDs, and computer software on your Mac? Already using something like Limewire with ads/nags, slow download speeds, and lots of fake files? Torrents are the solution you’ve been waiting for!
The problem is many people are quickly confused when confronting torrents. Follow this guide to learn everything you need in order to make your Mac torrent experience as easy and automated as possible.
If you want to skip around this tutorial, here are the main sections:
• What are torrents?
• How do torrents work?
• Download a torrent client (Transmission)
• Transmission Port Forward Setup
• Static IP Setup
• Port Forwarding Router
• Transmission Tweaks
• Searching for torrents
• How to spot a good or bad torrent
• Opening completed torrent downloads
• Slow Speeds?
• TV Junkie?
2/23/08 – NEW UPDATED TORRENT TUTORIAL IS LOCATED HERE.
What are torrents?
Torrents (or “BitTorrent”) let you download free (and yes, probably copyrighted) movies, TV shows, music, software applications, and other types of files. More specifically, a file with a “.torrent” extension is a very small file (usually less than 100kb) which acts as a link to a much larger file (like a movie). You open the small .torrent file in a special application made for downloading torrents called a “client.” Once opened, the “client” will read the data inside the .torrent file, which in turn will begin to download the larger file.
Torrents different from other “peer-to-peer” file sharing methods (like Napster, Aquisition, and Limewire) in many ways. For one, it takes a few more steps to download files using torrents (search for desired file, download .torrent, open .torrent, wait for file to download). But you also get many more files to choose from, more reliable and higher quality files, and faster downloading times (usually).
How do torrents work?
This is a confusing topic so I’m not even going to delve into it. The truth is, you don’t need to know how it works, you just need to know how to make it work correctly. For a detailed definition of torrents, including legality info, read this wikipedia article.
Download a torrent client
The first step to get started is installing a torrent client application. I highly recommend using Transmission (I’ll be using it throughout this tutorial). Transmission is a nice small application with just the right amount of options to make newbies and advanced users feel at home.
Another good application (but larger and more of a memory hog) is Azureus. For advanced users, it has many more options than Transmission, but more than necessary for most users. You can find more torrent clients on versiontracker.com.
- Open Transmission from your Applications folder.
- Open Preferences (Command+Comma)
- Click the “Advanced” tab
- Enter “59152″ in the box after “Incoming TCP port”
- Check “Automatically map port”
Check the port status light:
If the light is green, breathe a sigh of relief and continue to Transmission Tweaks.
If the light is red then you’ve got a bit more work then the rest of us. If you follow the following steps correctly, this will be a one time thing.
• If your computer is assigned a static IP address from your router or if you have manual TCP/IP configured (meaning your IP address is always the same), continue to Port Forwarding.
• If you don’t have a static IP address, your computer is assigned a dynamic address via DHCP. You will need to give yourself a static IP address — we must do this to ensure every time you’re on your home network you will have the same IP address and therefore the torrent port will always be open and pointing to your computer.
- Open System Preferences: Network.
- Click the “Location” drop down box and select “Edit Locations”
- Click the plus (+) sign
- Type “Home” (or whatever you like) and click “Done”
- From within your new location, connect to your network as you normally would
- Write down the following info for your connection (for Airport connections, you’ll need to click “Advanced” then “TCP/IP” to see this information):
• 1) IP Address
• 2) Subnet Mask Address
• 3) Router Address
- Click the “Configure” or “Configure IPv4″ drop down box and change from “Using DHCP” to “Manually”
- Fill in the same numbers you wrote down for “Subnet Mask” and “Router.”
- For DNS or DNS Server, enter: “22.214.171.124″ and “126.96.36.199″ (these are the free opendns servers)
- For IP Address, use something similar to your old address, but make the last segment of numbers something higher (add 50) so it won’t be accidently assigned to other DHCP clients on your network. For example, if your IP Address was 10.0.1.5, make your new IP Address 10.0.1.55.
- Click Apply and make sure the internet works
If using airport, your settings should look something like this:
If using ethernet, your settings should look something like this:
Note: if you leave your home network, change your “Location” back to “Automatic” in Network System Preferences. You can quickly change your location by clicking the Apple Menu (top left of your screen) and clicking “Location.”
Torrents use a user-specified port when uploading and downloading files. We have already told Transmission that we want to use port 59152. The last step is to forward the torrent port on your router to your new static IP Address.
- Find out the make/model of your router and go to portforward.com’s router page.
- On the router page, select your router.
- On the next page select “BitTorrent.”
- Ignore everything until you see “BitTorrent’s Port for incoming connections”
- Enter 59152.
- Skip down till you see “Please enter the static ip you want to forward to:”
- Enter your static IP Address
- Follow the remaining instructions to set up port forwarding on your router.
After you’re done, you’ll know it’s correct when you see the green light in Transmission’s Advanced preferences.
Now that the port forwarding is setup, lets tweak some options in Transmission. Open Transmission’s Preferences:
- “Auto resize” keeps the window as small as possible while still allowing you to see all current transfers.
- The “Badge Dock icon with” checkboxes will allow you to easily monitor your upload and download speeds.
- Unchecking the “Prompt user for” boxes will keep Transmission silent and less annoying.
- “Check for update” will help keep things running smoothly by keeping Transmission up to date.
- “Add transfer: Download to:” folder where the torrent will automatically be moved once it’s finished downloading. I like this because I have one folder where I can see all my newly completed torrent downloads.
- “Keep incomplete files in” folder where the torrent file will be held while downloading until it’s complete.
- “Trash original torrent file” will delete the small .torrent file after the torrent has been started. This helps keep things tidy, as after the download has begun, the .torrent file is no long needed.
- “Auto add” is one of my favorite features. Any torrent placed in this folder will be automatically opened in Transmission. Therefore, set this folder to the same folder Safari and Firefox use to save downloaded files (note: you can also setup Firefox to automatically open .torrent file in Transmission).
- “Start transfers when added” will automatically start downloading the torrent when opened. This works perfectly in conjunction with the aforementioned “Auto Add.”
- “Stop seeding at ratio 1.00” means that you will upload a 1:1 ratio of the file you downloaded. This is fair to the torrent community, as you are sharing the same amount you downloaded. If you want to conserve network bandwidth or just be stingy, set this to the lowest value: .01
- The remaining “Queues” options help limit network bandwidth and computer memory
- These settings really depend on your internet connection speed. For newbies, I recommend unchecking “download rate” and “upload rate.” If you notice your network is really slow when downloading torrents, start limiting these until you find a happy medium. These settings work good for me on a 10mb down cable internet connection.
- “Speed Limit mode” allows you to set slower speeds either on a schedule or on demand (for example, enable this mode when you need to make a VOIP phone call but your torrents are taking up too much bandwidth). Speed limit can be enabled instantly by clicking the turtle icon in the bottom left of the main window.
- The greater the “Global maximum connections” and “Maximum connections for new transfers” the more likely your network and computer with get bogged down. For my network, I find the below settings to work well.
Searching for torrents
Now that you’re done setting up (finally!), it’s time to start downloading torrents. There are thousands of torrent web sites where you can search through millions of different .torrent files, here are a few of my favorites:
- ISOHunt – comments & ratings
- BT Junkie – comments
- The Pirate Bay – comments
- The Pirate Bay – Mac Software – comments
- Seedpeer – comments & ratings
- Audionews.ru – the best for audio applications and samples; members only, but with free registration once a month or so
- Google; try googling the file you want + “torrent” (i.e. “microsoft office torrent”)
How to spot a good or bad .torrent file
Unless you’re looking for something obscure, you want to download a torrent with at least 20 or more “seeds.” A “seed” is someone who has finished downloading the whole torrent file; the more seeds the better. A “peer” is someone who is currently downloading the file; peers are less important – but still, the more peers the better. A very popular torrent may have 40,000+ seeds! This will pretty much guarantee fast download speeds, although that will also depend on your internet connection speed.
Here’s an example of a badly seeded torrent from ISOHunt (note that S = Seeds, L = Peers aka Leechers)
Here’s an example of a well seeded torrent from ISOHunt
Note that 3 people have given this torrent a good rating, 6 people have commented, it’s 350mb (which is good for a 1 hour video file, as you’ll read shortly), and it has more than 40,000 seeds!
Several web sites like ISOHunt and BT Junkie offer feedback, comments, and ratings. So, before downloading a torrent, make sure to check out what other users are saying. This is especially important for movies, where there may be fakes going around. Many torrents also include descriptions. For movies, look for keywords like “dvdrip” (meaning it’s from a dvd), “dvdscr” (meaning a dvd screener, like for award consideration) or CAM (meaning it’s from a camera in a movie theater – in other words, bad quality). Keep in mind you can’t always trust descriptions, but user-generated comments are usually reliable.
Make sure to look for files with appropriate file sizes. For example, a good quality 2 hour video file should be at least 650MB. Long DVD quality movies can be up to 2.5GB in size. A good quality MP3 album should be around 60-80MB, 120MB for high quality. Make sure to also look for high bitrate mp3s in the torrent’s description. I usually download nothing less than 128kbps and aim for 256kbps or higher.
Opening completed torrent downloads
Some files you download will be wrapped into a single file to make transportation easier. These may have .rar, .###, .dmg, or .zip extensions (or several others). While .dmg files can be opened with disk utility simply by double clicking it, the other formats need more help. The help comes in the form of a great free utility called “The Unarchiver.” After installing, you will be able to double click a .zip, .rar, and many other esoteric file types, and The Unarchiver will automatically open and reveal your downloaded file.
Slow speeds can be caused by a few things. First, make sure the torrent port is open. Second, make sure you are downloading a file with many seeds, don’t expect high speeds without lots of seeds. If it’s still slow, check your internet connection speed to see if your desired speed is even possible:
- Close your torrent application and any other programs that connect to the internet
- Go to speakeasy.net/speedtest
- Select a city near you and begin the test
We want to look at the Download Speed
• 0-3,500 kbps (or less) is on the slow side. This is probably DSL (or dial-up); if you have DSL or dial-up, I highly recommend upgrading to cable. Look here for a cable provider in your area. You’ll never have fast torrent downloads with slow DSL and dial-up speeds and bandwidth.
• 3,500-6,000 kbps is pretty good. This could be DSL or Cable and you should get moderate torrrent download speeds.
• 6,000-10,000 kbps down is fast – probably a cable connection. You should get really good torrent speeds.
• 10,000-15,000 kbps is really fast – probably a fiber-optic connection. Fiber-optic speeds pretty much guarantee you super fast download speeds with well seeded torrents.
There is a fantastic freeware application called TVShows that will automatically download your favorite TV shows hours after they come out — effortlessly!
- Download and install TVShows
- In Preferences: “Enable” TVShows
- Set Quality to “Normal” or “High” (although some shows are only released in normal quality)
- Check for episodes every “15 mins”
- Save torrents in the “Downloads” directory that Firefox and Safari use
- Check “Automatically open torrent with default client”
- Click “Close”
- Search and add the TV shows you want to download.
- Quit TVShows to activate the downloading daemon (the background process that makes it possible to download TV shows without TVShows open).
In conjunction with the Transmission settings we’ve already setup, TVShows will now automatically download .torrent files for you anytime a new episode is released, Transmission will automatically open and start downloading, and within a few hours your new episode will be ready to watch in your “Add transfer: Download to:” folder, all with absolutely no user intervention.