When you click a magnet link on a website to get a torrent, it automagically opens a torrent file with a list of files you can download. Ever wonder how uTorrent finds that file in the big mess of the peer to peer internet? You can now see how this works  with a new visualization in the Project Maelstrom Browser, using real-time data from µTorrent’s core.

Note: For a more technical description of how DHT lookups work, I suggest you watch this video.

What’s going on here?


Well, lots! µTorrent does all kinds of complicated stuff behind the scenes, but let’s talk about what you can see it doing in this visualization. Here’s the setup: You click on a magnet link, and Project Maelstrom searches the network of other users who have that torrent. The “target” in the center of the screen is the torrent that you’re looking for. All of the dots that are shown are the people µTorrent has asked to try and track down your “target”.

How does µTorrent actually find a torrent?

Looking up a torrent is quite a complex task, but the basic idea is kind of like this:  you walk into the biggest party in the world, looking for someone you’ve never met before. – I know that sounds a little strange, but stay with me – You’re at a party looking for a person, and you ask someone, “Hey, I’m looking for Sarah. Do you know her? Or do you know anyone that knows her?”. They reply, “Sorry, I don’t know her, but go ask Joe, Mary, and Dan over there, I think they might know her”. You then ask Joe, Mary, and Dan the same question and keep following this process until you finally find Sarah. Except, unlike you, a torrent client can ask more than 50 people every millisecond.

In this explanation, there are a few things that don’t quite fit, exactly. First, the person you’re looking for is actually the torrent. Second, there aren’t really any names in the µTorrent world — everyone you ask for help is actually anonymous. Third, and definitely not last, you actually (hopefully) find a bunch of “Sarahs” (people who have the torrent you’re looking for). But, hey, it’s a pretty close analogy.

What do all those dots mean anyway?

All those dots are other users. This is what peer-to-peer is all about—people!  Let’s take a look at this visualization right before the torrent is found, to explain exactly what is being shown in the graphic.


 Asked 29 People: Project Maelstrom has asked 29 total people, “Hey, do you know who I can download this torrent from?”

19 People Helped: 19 people that you asked replied, “Sorry, I don’t know where you can download that from, but I think I know someone who can help you find it, go ask them!”

17 People Know Where it is: 17 people that you asked replied, “I know where that torrent is, here’s a list of people that you can try downloading it from.”

Once you’ve found people to download your torrent from, you ask them to transfer the file to you. As soon as you receive enough data, the torrent loads.  A people-powered web, there it is!

See it for yourself

If you want to see this visualization in action, download Project Maelstrom and try it out for yourself! Happy Torrenting!

For the past several months, we’ve had internal conversations around how we can create a better uTorrent experience. Specifically, we want to find a way to improve uTorrent for our customers while financially supporting the amazing team that works every day to make uTorrent great.

I’ll explain what this means, but first, a little history.

uTorrent is a free piece of software. To support it, we use bundled software and offers to offset the cost that would otherwise be paid directly by the user. This is a familiar revenue model that is commonly used by software companies. It allows us to fund the costs associated with software development, as well as other projects and innovations.

Now for the full disclosure: We’ve never been satisfied with this revenue model. It requires compromises that detract from a premium user experience. We want to find a model that adds value to our product and our users. We want to find a better way.

So what does this look like? We don’t know, but we have a lot of ideas. We’ll be testing these ideas over the next few weeks and months. Our goals are simple:

  • Continue to make uTorrent the best torrent client available
  • Provide our users with clear options for supporting uTorrent (with options for every budget)
  • Be open and transparent throughout the entire process

We’ve always been at the forefront of innovation for peer-to-peer technology. We are excited to now take on this new and wholly different challenge.

- The uTorrent Team

This ongoing series will help you get the most out of μTorrent, from the basics to tips and tricks.

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