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Torrent Downloads vs. Direct Downloads

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Downloading files from websites is a pretty common occurance nowadays. While the legality of downloading certain files is debatable, the fact remains that downloading media and applications online is a very popular hobby. When it comes to downloading files online, like full games, and audio mp3 albums, though, there are two primary channels that you can use - torrents and direct-file downloads. This is as relevant today as ever before, so our goal here is to compare these two download options, fairly, to help you decide which option might be better for you.

Direct file downloads - computer to server connections

Direct downloads are just that: a file is stored on a computer, or a server, and when you click on a download link, that file is downloaded directly to your computer. No third-party, peer-to-peer connections necessary to download the file. Both HTTP and FTP downloads are considered direct downloads.

Torrents - peer-to-peer downloading

Using direct downloads, you're obtaining a file from a single source. With torrents, this isn't the case. Torrenting is referred to as p2p file sharing, which can be translated as peer-to-peer file sharing or person-to-person file sharing. So, torrent downloads allow you to obtain a file from a group of users whereas direct downloads allow you to download a file from a single source.

Download speed comparison

In general, torrent downloads are slower than direct file downloads. The speed of a torrent is dictated by the available peers, or the number of people actively uploading a specific file, along with the bandwidth available for that particular torrent. Obviously, your own internet speed factors in to how quickly a torrent file will download. Downloading torrents does not magically give you more bandwidth, unfortunately. The speed of a direct file download, on the other hand, is only affected by two things: the speed of the server that hosts the file and your available internet connection speed.

Sometimes, downloading a torrent file may be faster than using a file-hosting service to download files. For example, if a file you're downloading using torrents has a preferable seed to leech ratio, or the seeders are offering fast uploads, you may be able to get near your maximum speed available through your ISP. Conversely, if you're trying to download a file from a website, such as a file-hosting site, and that site is slow or overloaded, these downloads may be slower than downloading the same file using torrents. Even though direct downloads and torrents can vary a bit in terms of which is faster on a per-file level, torrents just don't offer the speed or reliability of direct downloads overall.

Safety and privacy factors - which download option is safer?

In terms of safety and privacy, direct file downloads tend to offer much better protection than torrents. The main reason for this is due to the way each download option works: direct-file downloads can only be seen by two parties: your ISP and the file-hosting service you're downloading the file from. With torrent downloads, however, your activity can be seen by your internet service provider as well as every other user who is also downloading that file. Anti-piracy organizations regularly monitor torrents to capture IP addresses of downloaders in hopes of bringing lawsuits against people who are sharing copyright-protected media illegally.

This does not inherintly mean that direct download services are the absolute-best way to download files. Because you're downloading a file from a computer, basically, there are records of your download activity in that computer's logs. If the government decides to take down a file-hosting site or uses the courts to supeona download connections and activity (server logs), it's possible that you can still get into legal trouble, provided you are downloading files or media that are protected. To surmize, however, direct downloads are much better-protected than torrent downloads because torrents can be spied on by anybody, but it requires a court order to monitor your download activity with direct downloads.

Based on these two metrics: download speed and overall privacy, direct file downloads are the better option for downloading files online. With direct file download services, you have a better chance of consistently downloading at your maximum internet speed, and you have better protection against anti-filesharing entities that regularly monitor torrents and try to identify file sharers.