Tribler

There’s a new BitTorrent client, Tibler. It has some improvements over standard BitTorrent. It also has some weaknesses.

BitTorrent is a P2P filesharing protocol. It is used to share a large file, or a bunch of smaller files. One example is a TV show or a movie, one large file. Another example is a torrent of old Atari games, a bunch of small files.

The torrent is broken into pieces of 1MB to 8MB. (piece size can be bigger or smaller) There’s a hash check, to avoid corrupted data. A torrent client simultaneously downloads one piece while uploading another. The rule for choosing pieces is “Try to download a piece that few others have. Otherwise, pick randomly.”

The BitTorrent clients simultaneously download and upload. If I have piece 37 and you have piece 43, I can give you 37 while you give me 43. To help new clients get started, you sometimes give a piece even if there’s nothing the other person has to share.

If you have the entire torrent, you’re a “seed”. The seed only uploads.

There’s a defect in most consumer-level Internet packages. The upload rate is slower than the download rate. There’s usually greater download demand than upload capacity. To be polite, you should leave the client seeding until you get a ratio of 1.0.

With BitTorrent, there’s a “tracker”. Each client connects to the tracker. This gets a list of other peers, so you can share the torrent. Your client announces your port and IP address, so others can connect to you. (You need to enable “port forwarding” in your router, modem, and Windows, so other people can connect to you. Otherwise, you’ll only connect to people who have port forwarding properly configured.)

Annoucing your IP address is a weakness. This applies to BitTorrent and Tribler. Occasionally, an IP lawyer will join a BitTorrent swarm that shares a current movie. He’ll write down everyone’s IP address, subpoena records from the ISPs, and start suing people. That lawyer will then run a “legal extortion” scam, demanding a settlement, threatening an even more expensive lawsuit. That hasn’t become a widespread practice, but it is happening sometimes.

The “tracker” represents an attack point. If you shut down the tracker, you shut down the torrent download. Technically, the tracker is only hosting metadata and not the torrent itself. However, aggressive copyright enforcement can go after trackers and the people who operate them.

There are “private trackers”. You can only join during certain times, or if a current user invites you. However, an undercover policeman still could easily join most of them. By having limited membership, the private trackers hope to avoid State violence.

Most private trackers have a “ratio policy”. Most consumer-level Internet packages have greater download capacity than upload capacity. The private trackers force people to share. They track each users’ ratio, and ban people with low ratio. (A BitTorrent client announces each upload to the tracker. This enables the tracker to measure ratio. If you hack your BitTorrent client and cheat, you may be banned.)

Many people on private trackers rent “seedboxes”. It’s a shared hosting arrangement where you get a lot of storage and bandwidth. That is nice, because it means downloads are fast. That is bad, because if you have a slow connection like me, you don’t get many opportunities to earn upload credit.

By definition, eveyone can’t have a ratio over 1.0, so the trackers have promotions where people can get free upload credit. Otherwise, the people with the slowest connections would have a ratio less than one, and risk getting banned. One common promotion is “freeleech”, download doesn’t count but upload does count, enabling people to build up credit. Another promotion is “You get a bonus once a day for logging into the website.” Some trackers accept donations for bonus upload credit.

Tribler has two noteworthy enhancements to BitTorrent. First, it’s more suitable for watching streaming. Second, it supports trackerless downloading.

With standard BitTorrent, you download pieces randomly throughout the whole file. This is a problem for streaming. You can’t watch the stream until you’ve downloaded the new file.

Tribler adds an enhancement. When downloading a stream, it tries to download near the front of the stream first, but still semi-randomly near the front. By downloading early pieces first, you can start watching the download before it’s done. It still is semi-randomly downloading, maximizing the chance that you can share with someone else. This enhancement makes Tribler able to share streams.

The other advantage of Tribler is that it’s trackerless. You connect to peers, and they tell you their peers, etc. Instead of storing metadata on a tracker, each peer shows what torrents it has. Tribler let’s you search peers to see what’s available.

To help things get started, Tribler has “superpeers”. This makes it easier for people to get started sharing. Unfortunately, the superpeers also are an attack point. If State thugs wanted to get aggressive, they could go after the superpeers. Also, an undercover policeman could sign up to be a superpeer. Then, he’d be able to track all the Tribler users. If police or copyright lawyers want to be jerks, they could sign up as superpeers and then arrest or sue the other Tribler users.

Another defect of Tribler is that it’s harder to enforce a ratio policy. It sort of remembers ratio, but with no centralized tracker, it’s hard to enforce.

Another filesharing system is called RetroShare. It’s much more resistant to State infiltration. It has more “trust network” features. I haven’t researched it much. In an agorist economy, a “trust network” is important to avoid jerks and State infiltration.

After the MegaUpload raid, a lot of people are still filesharing, but taking greater security precautions. As long as you can buy general purpose computers and connect them, there will be “illegal filesharing”. All the State thugs are accomplishing is that they’re driving the sharing deeper underground. State thugs would love to censor and cripple the Internet, both to stop “illegal filesharing” and to censor blogs like this. I don’t see that happening, because too many people would be offended, and too many people would find loopholes and workarounds.

Tribler is a new BitTorrent enhancement. It’s more infiltration-resistant. It doesn’t rely on a centralized tracker. Tribler supports stream sharing, by downloading early pieces first. The “superpeers” are an attack point for Tribler. Also, any lawyer or undercover policeman could join Tribler, and see what everyone else is sharing.

As State thugs get more aggressive, a “trust network” becomes more important. It’s nice to see agorist-like ideas develop for P2P filesharing.

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