Torrenting requires a VPN service that is fast, secure, and respects user privacy. Most high-quality VPN services are paid, but there are a few free options that may be suitable for occasional light torrenting. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, here are a few free VPN services you might consider:
- Windscribe: This free VPN has a 10GB per month data cap and allows torrenting on most servers. However, speeds may not be as high as with its premium version.
- ProtonVPN: Unlike most free VPNs, ProtonVPN’s free version doesn’t have a data cap. However, it only allows torrenting on its paid servers.
- Hide.me: This free VPN provides 10GB of data per month and supports P2P file sharing. However, you can only connect to a limited number of servers with the free version.
- Hotspot Shield: The free version of this VPN service provides 500MB of data per day, and it supports P2P file sharing. But you’re limited to one server in the United States.
- TunnelBear: TunnelBear’s free version has a 500MB monthly data cap, but it allows torrenting on all servers. If you tweet about the company, you can receive an additional 1GB of data.
- Speedify: Speedify offers a free version with a 2GB per month data cap. It supports torrenting and uses a special technology called Channel Bonding for improved speed and reliability. However, the data limit might be too restrictive for heavy torrenting.
- Betternet: Betternet’s free plan offers 500MB of data per day and supports P2P activity. It may work for very light torrenting, but keep in mind the daily data limit.
- ZoogVPN: ZoogVPN’s free version provides a 10GB data allowance per month and allows P2P connections on three servers. It could be a decent option for occasional torrenting.
- Avira Phantom VPN: This VPN’s free version has a monthly data limit of 500MB, which can be doubled if you register. However, the limit is still quite low for regular torrenting.
- VPNBook: This is a completely free VPN service with unlimited data, and it supports P2P file sharing. However, as a lesser-known provider, it might not be as reliable or fast as some of the others.
Keep in mind that free VPNs often have limitations such as data caps, slower speeds, and fewer server options compared to their paid counterparts. Additionally, not all VPNs are trustworthy when it comes to logging policies and user privacy.
Why use a VPN for Torrenting
Using a VPN for torrenting can be important for several reasons:
- Privacy: A VPN hides your IP address, making it harder for third parties to track your online activities. When you’re torrenting, you’re part of a peer-to-peer network where every member can potentially see your IP address. This could expose your activities to other users, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or even legal entities. A VPN helps maintain your privacy by ensuring that your real IP address isn’t visible to others.
- Security: VPNs encrypt your data, adding an extra layer of security. This is especially important when you’re connected to unsecured networks, where your data could potentially be intercepted by malicious entities.
- Avoiding Throttling: ISPs may sometimes throttle, or slow down, your internet speed when they detect heavy data usage from torrenting. Using a VPN hides your online activities from your ISP, making it harder for them to throttle your connection based on the content you’re accessing.
- Bypassing Geo-restrictions: Some torrents might be blocked in certain regions due to copyright laws or censorship. A VPN allows you to connect to servers in different countries, bypassing these geo-restrictions and giving you access to more content.
- It represents a significant portion of internet traffic. A report from Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena in 2018 stated that BitTorrent traffic accounted for 27% of total upstream volume of traffic, and 3% of downstream volume on fixed networks globally.
- Seedbox: A seedbox is a dedicated, high-speed server used for torrenting. You can download and upload torrents to the seedbox server, and then securely download the files to your own machine via an encrypted connection. Seedboxes can provide more privacy than torrenting directly, and they usually have much higher speeds as well.
- Usenet: Usenet is one of the oldest parts of the internet, predating the World Wide Web. It’s primarily a discussion system, but binary groups within Usenet can be used to share files. While Usenet requires a paid subscription to a provider, it does offer high download speeds and a degree of privacy.
- Direct Download (DDL) Sites: These are websites where files are uploaded and can be downloaded directly. They can offer more privacy than torrenting without a VPN, but the downside is that these sites often have lots of ads and can have download speed limits unless you pay for a premium account.
- Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing Networks: Other than torrenting, there are also different P2P networks like eMule or the old Limewire (now discontinued) that facilitate file sharing.
- I2P Network: The Invisible Internet Project (I2P) is a fully encrypted private network layer. It allows applications to send messages to each other pseudonymously and securely, which can be used for safe file sharing.
- Zeronet: This is a decentralized network of peer-to-peer users, much like BitTorrent, but it also allows for the creation of websites. It has a built-in torrent client, but with the added bonus of websites that are hosted by anyone who visits them.
Paid VPN Service Providers
If you can afford to spend a little cash, then try one of these for premium level performance.
- ExpressVPN: Known for its exceptional speeds and robust security features, ExpressVPN is a great option for torrenting. It offers unlimited bandwidth and data, P2P support on all servers, and strong encryption. It also has a strict no-logs policy to ensure your privacy.
- NordVPN: With dedicated P2P servers, NordVPN is another excellent choice for torrenting. It provides high-speed connections, strong security measures including a no-logs policy and a kill switch, and it’s based in a privacy-friendly jurisdiction (Panama).
- CyberGhost: CyberGhost offers dedicated torrenting servers and features like a kill switch and no-logs policy. Its easy-to-use interface makes it a good choice for VPN beginners.
- Private Internet Access (PIA): PIA allows torrenting on all its servers and offers high speeds, unlimited bandwidth, and a no-logs policy. It also includes an ad and malware blocker.
- Surfshark: Even though it’s newer than some other options, Surfshark has quickly made a name for itself with high-speed connections, a no-logs policy, and a kill switch. It also offers unlimited simultaneous connections.
- Mullvad: Known for its commitment to user privacy, Mullvad allows torrenting on all servers and keeps no logs. It accepts cash payments and doesn’t require an email, providing an extra layer of anonymity.
How Torrenting works
Torrenting, also known as peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, is a method of distributing data over the internet. Instead of downloading files from a single server or source, you download pieces of the file from multiple sources (or “peers”). Here’s how it works in a bit more detail:
- Torrent Files and Trackers: Torrenting begins with a .torrent file, which contains metadata about the file(s) you want to download, including their names, sizes, and how they are broken up into smaller chunks. It also includes the address of a tracker, which is a server that keeps track of which peers have which pieces of the file.
- Seeding and Leeching: When you download a torrent, you’re a “leecher” or “peer.” You’re downloading data from “seeders,” who are peers that have already downloaded the entire file and are now uploading pieces of it to others. Some leechers might also be seeders if they’ve downloaded some parts of the file and are sharing them while they download other parts.
- BitTorrent Protocol: Torrent clients (software like BitTorrent, uTorrent, or qBittorrent) use the BitTorrent protocol to communicate with the tracker and with other peers. The tracker helps peers find each other. Then, the BitTorrent protocol manages the downloading and uploading of data, optimizing the process to make the best use of all available bandwidth.
- Downloading in Pieces: Unlike traditional downloads, where you get a file from start to finish, torrents are downloaded in random pieces, which your torrent client then reassembles into the complete file. This means that even if there are many leechers and few seeders, the file can still be downloaded efficiently.
- Continued Seeding: After you’ve downloaded a file, you typically continue to seed it (i.e., upload its pieces to other users) until you stop your torrent client, or until you reach a certain upload/download ratio. Seeding helps maintain the torrent swarm and allows others to continue downloading the file.