Monday, June 02, 2008

BitTorrent sites could become obsolete

BitTorrent may be decentralized, but a large part of the BitTorrent community still relies on centralized websites and trackers. These trackers and torrent sites are considered to be the Achilles heel of the BitTorrent hydra.

At the moment, the top three BitTorrent sites host are handling the majority of all BitTorrent users, and even worse, The Pirate Bay tracks well over 50% of all public torrent files. BitTorrent has welcomed many new users over the past three years, and we are now in the uncomfortable situation where the downtime of one of the larger sites may cause problem for the others, simply because they can’t handle the traffic.

This is exactly what happened last month when Mininova was offline for a day due to a hardware problem. Mininova has well over three million visitors a day, these people went to other sites while Mininova was down, and this increase in traffic got some sites in serious trouble. The question is: Is there an alternative?

The answer to this question is yes and no. A solution to the tracker problem that works pretty well is DHT, or “trackerless torrents”. With DHT you can still connect to other people who are downloading the same file, even when the tracker for that torent is not working properly. Thanks to DHT, people were able to download torrents that were tracked by, up to six months after the tracker went down. The downside of DHT (the mainline version) is that not all clients support it, and that it is maintained by one company, BitTorrent Inc.

Replacing BitTorrent sites is even more complex. How do you find torrents when there are no BitTorrent search engines that store them? A possible solution to this problem comes from researchers of Cornell University, who developed an Azureus plugin named Cubit. The Cubit plugin allows you to find torrents, and doesn’t require a centralized server as BitTorrent sites do. You basically search for torrent files among other peers, similar to Kazaa and Limewire. An interesting concept, but unfortunately, this also has a lot of downsides.

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