1. What is file sharing, and how does it work?
A way of distributing and downloading files, not through a central server, but a network of users. In a file sharing network, every user is at the same time a distributer. A more detailed explanation can be found here.
2. That sounds interesting. How can I join the party?
First, you should select a P2P network that fits your needs. Especially for larger files people love BitTorrent these days, since it tends to be rather fast and there is a huge collection of content from which to choose, from movies and games to programs, TV shows and basically, anything you like.
Also, torrents are very easy to use. You can find a guide for beginners here: Torrents: A Beginners Guide
Take note, however, that you’re not anonymous by default, and need to take steps to protect your privacy. RIAA, MPAA and tons of other companies are very active on these networks and like to send our threatening messages or worse. Read this article for more information: Dubious Lawsuits And Warning Letters
3. So file sharing is only torrents?
Not at all, there are a number of other programs that are more old-school:
– Ares Galaxy and particularly Soulseek are excellent for music, with some rather rare stuff available, and many people might remember eMule aka eDonkey2000, which is very slow but is still used by people all around the world, including China.
– Gnutella and Gnutella2 are two once-popular networks that had a large user base, with programs such as Limewire, Bearshare and Shareaza providing access, but a lot of these clients have been discontinued. Also, there are quite a few fake files.
– Other networks include Direct Connect, with it’s client DC++, which is popular in Sweden.
4. Are there no alternatives to P2P file sharing?
Yes, there are, some popular, some not.
– File lockers offer direct downloads, where you can get movies, games, music and all sorts of media without sharing anything. To find links, you can use various sites linking to content.
On the bright side, depending on the hoster speeds can be rather well (or horrible if you don’t want to pay for a “premium” account), and you don’t need to share anything. Also, your privacy is protected much better, since only you and the file locker know your identity, instead of potentially hundreds of peers.
Files tend to get deleted really fast though, due to DMCA requests (produced in bulk by automated bots… we’ll soon produce an article on this issue).
– Then, there is of course Usenet, one of the biggest collection of all kinds of media, which you can all download at very high speeds. It is totally anonymous and almost anything you can imagine can be found. On the downside, it costs a few dollars, although there are plenty of free trials.
– XDCC or IRC downloading has been around for years, and has never become quite popular. It’s is based on the chat system IRC, and you can find quite a lot of content. Some Anime and fansub websites use it as one of their main methods of data distribution.
Privacy is somewhat better than with file sharing, and speed can be very decent. If you’re not afraid of the slightly nerdy appearance of mIRC, definitely have a look and see if it is for you.
Your reward will be fast downloads and looking like a really cool bloke. It is relatively easy to use, but will make you look like some very sharp computer geek. We take that as a nice bonus.
5. OK, so I installed the P2P client. How do I get files?
That depends on what you use. BitTorrent relies on torrents, which you can find on indexing sites such as The Pirate Bay, Isohunt and others; there is a list of those in our beginners tutorial.
Others rely on their build-in search engine. Check the tutorials for your P2P client on our site for more help.
6. How about the legal side of things. Is file sharing legal?
First and foremost, P2P is a technology to deliver and share files. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it is likely that distributing certain files is not allowed without permission in your jurisdiction, mostly because it is protected by copyright law.
Notice it says distributing, not downloading. Keep in mind most file sharing applications make you a distributor by design, even if you don’t want to share anything; this is just how the system was build. So by law, you’re automatically not only downloading but offering others the content you want to get.
This is quite an important difference. In many countries, it is legal to download certain material for private use but not to upload or distribute it. Read our article on the legal situation for more information: Legal Or Illegal: Debunking The Myths
7. Can I get into trouble for downloading anything from torrents / other file sharing networks?
Yes, you can. Regardless of what you download, file sharing and torrents in particular are restricted in some networks. For example, many universities forbid any use completely, and will block your account if you do nonetheless. Then, there are so called “anti-piracy” organizations scanning the network for alleged unauthorized downloads, which can get you in quite a bit of trouble.
Two well-known consequences are warning letters from your ISP, which can be quite threatening, or even lawsuits, coupled with pricy “settlement plans”, dubbed “pay-it-or-else” schemes by some. Read more in our article: Warning Letters And Lawsuits
It should be noted that evidence is often somewhat sketchy, and people have also been sued or threatened by some copyright trolls for completely legal downloads. Receiving a warning notice is not proof you did anything fishy in our opinion, as they’re often send out automatically by bots, without the necessary due dilligence. Read more about it in our article: “Pay Up Or Else”: Anti Piracy Firms And Their Dubious “Evidence”
8. How can I protect my privacy and stay anonymous?
There are essentially two practical ways to do so: By using public WiFi, or with a VPN service. Public WiFi is any hotspot that doesn’t require a registration or account of any kind, and is best used with a laptop or other portable device.
Also, there are VPNs services, one of the most popular ways to remain anonymous online. Quite simply, they encrypt your data to stop any eavesdropping from your ISP or network administrator, so that nobody can sniff through your Internet traffic.
Secondly, they replace your IP (kind of your phone number online) with a different, anonymous one, so that nobody can know your identity. Most services are very newbie-friendly, so even beginners should have no problem setting things up.
Dozens of services are available for cheap, and we have a whole section dedicated to VPNs. You can find it on the navigation bar to the left.
9. My university or network administrator forbids the use of torrents / file sharing in general. What can I do?
10. I downloaded something, but don’t know how to use the files.
Read our guide on the most common file types and how to open them here.
11. I want higher download speeds. What can I do?
For one, there is only so much you can do, as your download speed is always dependent on what your peers on the network can provide. To futher explain it, we wrote a detailed explanation, along with possible problems and their solution: P2P: Why Can Downloading Speeds Vary So Much?
Read our guide on how to get fast downloads with torrents here: How To Ensure Fast Downloads With Torrents
For all other file sharing clients, be sure to use the first start assistant to correctly configure the maximum upload speed, to avoid your connection clogging up from too high uploading speeds. For more information, check out our tutorials on how to correctly configure your file sharing client.
Apart from that, there is another, important thing to consider: Port forwarding. Especially when going for older files with only a rather limited number of peers, or using older file protocols such as eMule, this can be very important. Read our tutorial on port forwarding here: Port Forwarding Tutorial
12. What is port forwarding, and why is it so important to setup?
Without setting up port forwarding, your P2P file sharing client can only establish outgoing connections, not receive requests from the outside. So, especially for older files in general and older file sharing tools, you should set it up to not loose any precious sources.
It isn’t as important as it was a few years ago, but you can still boost performance quite a bit. For a more detailed explanation on port forwarding any why it is important read our article: What Is Port Forwarding, And Why Is It Important?
You can find our detailed tutorial on port forwarding here: Port Forwarding Tutorial
13. I setup port forwarding and did everything else too, but speeds are still bad.
Maybe your Internet provider or network administrator, if you use your universities connection or something similar, throttles file sharing protocols to articifially slow you down and save on bandwidth. There are some options you can select in some clients, particularly for BitTorrent, to circumvent that, but often you have to rely on a VPN service to get around this issue.
When using a VPN service, your traffic is encrypted and your ISP can’t detect you’re using file sharing, stopping them from “managing” your connections traffic. Alternatively, try enabling encryption in your clients settings.
14. My favorite torrent site has loads of strange, fake download buttons.
Check out this article: Ads From Hell: How To Spot And Avoid The Top 3 Scams
15. I have another question that isn’t answered here.
Leave us a comment below, and we or another reader will get back to you.