Monday, 18 March 2013

Torrenting vs. Direct File Downloads: Which is Better?

Downloading TV shows, software and movies has become a worldwide pastime.  Whether the files themselves are legal to share is subject to debate depending on the file and the downloaders’ location, but the fact remains that downloading media and applications online is a very popular hobby.  When it comes to downloading popular media, such as TV shows and movies, though, there are two primary channels that you can use – torrents and direct-file downloads.  The argument is as fresh today as it ever was, so here we hope to fairly compare both file-downloading options.

Direct file downloads – computer to server connections

Direct-file downloads are just what they sound like: a file is stored on a computer, or a server, and when you click on a download link, that file is downloaded to your computer.  Whether you’re using a HTTP download service or a FTP download service, the process is basically the same – you are downloading a file from a single source.

Torrents – p2p file sharing

Torrents, unlike direct file downloads, do not have a single source, at least ultimately. Torrenting is referred to as p2p file sharing, which can be translated as peer-to-peer file sharing or person-to-person file sharing. While direct file downloads rely on you connecting to a download server, torrents work by sharing parts of a file amongst multiple users.  

Download speed comparison

Overall, direct file downloads offer consistently-faster download speeds than torrents do.  The speed of a torrent is dictated by the available peers, or the number of people actively uploading a specific file, along with the bandwidth available for that particular torrent.  A torrent’s download speed, of course, is also affected by your available internet connection speed. The speed of a direct file download, on the other hand, is only affected by two things: the speed of the server that hosts the file and your available internet connection speed.

Sometimes, torrents can be much faster than direct file downloads.   If you’re downloading a popular file with hundreds or thousands of peers who are seeding the torrent, there’s a good chance that you can max out your internet connection speed.  Likewise, sometimes direct file downloads can be slower, such as when you’re downloading a file from a slow server or an overloaded server.  While there can be some back and forth as to which download process is faster, direct file downloads are consistently faster and tend to be more reliable than torrents.

Safety and privacy factors – which download option is safer?

In terms of safety and privacy, direct file downloads tend to offer much better protection than torrents.   The main reason for this is due to the way each download option works: direct-file downloads can only be seen by two parties: your ISP and the file-hosting service you’re downloading the file from.   Your torrent activity, on the other hand, can be monitored not only by your ISP, but each and every peer, or third-party computer, that you’re connected to when downloading the torrent.  Anti-piracy organizations regularly monitor torrents to capture IP addresses of downloaders in hopes of bringing lawsuits against people who are sharing copyright-protected media illegally.

Now, this isn’t to say that direct-file download services offer perfect protection.  Because you’re downloading a file from a computer, basically, there are records of your download activity in that computer’s logs.  If a government agency seizes or forces a file hoster to disclose server logs, you can still be implicated in the downloading of copyright-protected works, provided you are downloading files or media that are protected.  Overall, though, direct file download services provide much better privacy and overall safety than torrents simply because it takes government action to discover your download activity.

Based on these two metrics: privacy and speed, direct file downloads are the better option for downloading files online.  With direct file download services, you have a better chance of consistently downloading at your maximum internet speed, and you have better protection against anti-filesharing entities that regularly monitor torrents and try to identify file sharers.

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