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What is a torrent?
A torrent file stores data about files for use with BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol that enables users to send and receive files in small pieces to and from computers across the Internet. Hundreds of millions of people use BitTorrent globally, as of January 2012, according to the protocol's creator. Because of the distributed nature of BitTorrent sharing, and the fact that small pieces of the files are downloaded and then reassembled by the software, BitTorrent uses less resources than direct downloading of files, resulting in faster speeds for the downloader and lower bandwidth costs for the file provider. For this reason, companies such as Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft, and Canonical, makers of Ubuntu Linux, use BitTorrent to distribute their software, as of February 2012.
How torrenting works
All torrenting takes place using a torrent program. Examples of torrenting programs include uTorrent, Azureus and the original BitTorrent. These programs enable your computer to send and receive pieces of files on a specific port and interpret the data from torrent files. The torrent files contain all of the information about a specific torrent: who started it, what the torrent contains, and how to download and upload information corresponding to that torrent. When the torrent file is opened by a torrent program, the torrent program connects to other users who have portions of the file and downloads those pieces from them. Once it receives portions of the file, your computer becomes able to "seed," or upload, the file to other users. Once the torrent program has received all portions of the file, it assembles them into a usable file using the instructions found in the original torrent file.
What is a .torrent file?
This is a small metadata file. Metadata here means that the file contains information about the data you want to download, not the data itself.
Your BitTorrent client needs the .torrent file to connect to the tracker (see below) and download the actual data you're interested in.
What are seeds?
A seed is a client that has a complete copy of the data of a certain torrent. Once your BitTorrent client finishes downloading, it will remain open until you click the Finish button (or otherwise close it). This is known as being a seed or seeding.
What is a tracker?
A BitTorrent tracker is a service on the internet that assists in the communication between BitTorrent clients. When you open a torrent file, your machine contacts the tracker and asks for a list of seeds and leechers to connect to.