What is torrent?
The Torrent(BitTorrent) protocol can be used to reduce the server and network impact of distributing large files. Rather than downloading a file from a single source server, the BitTorrent protocol allows users to join a "swarm" of hosts to download and upload from each other simultaneously. The protocol is an alternative to the older single source, multiple mirror sources technique for distributing data, and can work over networks with lower bandwidth so many small computers, like mobile phones, are able to efficiently distribute files to many recipients.
A user who wants to upload a file first creates a small torrent descriptor file that they distribute by conventional means (web, email, etc.). They then make the file itself available through a BitTorrent node acting as a seed. Those with the torrent descriptor file can give it to their own BitTorrent nodes which, acting as peers or leechers, download it by connecting to the seed and/or other peers.
The file being distributed is divided into segments called pieces. As each peer receives a new piece of the file it becomes a source (of that piece) for other peers, relieving the original seed from having to send that piece to every computer or user wishing a copy. With BitTorrent, the task of distributing the file is shared by those who want it; it is entirely possible for the seed to send only a single copy of the file itself and eventually distribute to an unlimited number of peers.
Each piece is protected by a cryptographic hash contained in the torrent descriptor. This ensures that any modification of the piece can be reliably detected, and thus prevents both accidental and malicious modifications of any of the pieces received at other nodes. If a node starts with an authentic copy of the torrent descriptor, it can verify the authenticity of the entire file it receives.
Pieces are typically downloaded non-sequentially and are rearranged into the correct order by the BitTorrent Client, which monitors which pieces it has, can upload to other peers and which it needs. Pieces are of the same size throughout a single download (for example a 10MB file may be transmitted as ten 1MB Pieces or as forty 256kB Pieces). Due to the nature of this approach, the download of any file can be halted at any time and be resumed at a later date, without the loss of previously downloaded information, which in turn makes BitTorrent particularly useful in the transfer of larger files. This also enables the client to seek out readily available pieces and download them immediately, rather than halting the download and waiting for the next (and possibly unavailable) piece in line, which typically reduces the overall length of the download.
When a peer completely downloads a file, it becomes an additional seed. This eventual shift from peers to seeders determines the overall "health" of the file (as determined by the number of times a file is available in its complete form).
The distributed nature of BitTorrent leads to a flood like spreading of a file throughout many peer computer nodes. As more peers join the swarm, the likelihood of a complete successful download by any particular node increases. Relative to traditional Internet distribution schemes, this permits a significant reduction in the original distributor's hardware and bandwidth resource costs. It also provides redundancy against system problems, reduces dependence on the original distributor and provides sources for the file which are generally transient and therefore harder to trace by those who would block distribution compared to the situation provided by limiting availability of the file to a fixed host machine (or even several).