The BitTorrent protocol is still under development and therefore may still acquire new features and other enhancements such as improved efficiency.
Distributed trackers Edit
In June 2005, BitTorrent, Inc. released version 4.2.0 of the Mainline BitTorrent client. This release supported "trackerless" torrents, featuring a DHT implementation which allowed the client to use torrents that do not have a working BitTorrent tracker. Current versions of the official BitTorrent client, µTorrent, BitComet, and BitSpirit all share a compatible DHT implementation that is based on Kademlia. Azureus uses its own incompatible DHT system called the "distributed database", but a plugin is available which allows use of the mainline DHT.
Another idea that has surfaced recently in Azureus is that of virtual torrents. This idea is based on the distributed tracker approach and is used to describe some web resource. Currently, it is used for instant messaging. It is implemented using a special messaging protocol and requires an appropriate plugin. Anatomic P2P is another approach, which uses a decentralized network of nodes that route traffic to dynamic trackers.
Most BitTorrent clients also use Peer exchange (PEX) to gather peers in addition to trackers and DHT. Peer exchange checks with known peers to see if they know of any other peers. With the 188.8.131.52 release of Azureus, all major BitTorrent clients now have compatible peer exchange.
Content delivery Edit
Web seeding was implemented in 2006. The advantage of this feature is that a site may distribute a torrent for a particular file or batch of files and make those files available for download from that same web server; this can simplify seeding and load balancing greatly once support for this feature is implemented in the various BitTorrent clients. In theory, this would make using BitTorrent almost as easy for a web publisher as simply creating a direct download while allowing some of the upload bandwidth demands to be placed upon the downloaders (who normally use only a very small portion of their upload bandwidth capacity). This feature was created by John "TheSHAD0W" Hoffman, who created BitTornado.. From version 5.0 onward the Mainline BitTorrent client also supports web seeds and the BitTorrent web site has a simple publishing tool that creates web seeded torrents. µTorrent added support for web seeds in version 1.7. The latest version of the popular download manager GetRight supports downloading a file from both HTTP/FTP protocols and using BitTorrent.
Broadcatching combines RSS with the BitTorrent protocol to create a content delivery system, further simplifying and automating content distribution. Steve Gillmor explained the concept in a column for Ziff-Davis in December, 2003. The discussion spread quickly among bloggers (Techdirt, Ernest Miller, Chris Pirillo, etc.). In an article entitled Broadcatching with BitTorrent, Scott Raymond explained:
The BitTorrent web-service MoveDigital has the ability to make torrents available to any web application capable of parsing XML through its standard Representational State Transfer (REST) based interface. Additionally, Torrenthut is developing a similar torrent API that will provide the same features, as well as further intuition to help bring the torrent community to Web 2.0 standards. Alongside this release is a first PHP application built using the API called PEP, which will parse any Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0) feed and automatically create and seed a torrent for each enclosure found in that feed.
- Main article: BitTorrent protocol encryption
Protocol header encrypt (PHE) and Message stream encryption/Protocol encryption (MSE/PE) are features of some BitTorrent clients that attempt to make BitTorrent hard to detect and throttle. At the moment Azureus, Bitcomet, KTorrent, Transmission, Deluge, µTorrent,MooPolice, Halite, rtorrent and the latest official BitTorrent client (v6) support MSE/PE encryption.
In September 2006 it was reported that some software could detect and throttle BitTorrent traffic masquerading as HTTP traffic.
Reports in August 2007 indicated that Comcast was preventing BitTorrent seeding by monitoring and interfering with the communication between peers. Protection against these efforts is provided by proxying the client-tracker traffic through the Tor anonymity network or, via an encrypted tunnel to a point outside of the Comcast network. Comcast has more recently called a 'truce' with BitTorrent, Inc. with the intention of shaping traffic in a protocol-agnostic manner. Questions about the ethics and legality of Comcast's behavior have led to renewed debate about Net neutrality in the United States, with Barack Obama stating that he would try to make Comcast's filtering of BitTorrent illegal.
In general, although encryption can make it difficult to determine what is being shared, BitTorrent is vulnerable to traffic analysis. Thus even with MSE/PE, it may be possible for an ISP to recognize BitTorrent and also to determine that a system is no longer downloading, only uploading, information and terminate its connection by injecting TCP RST (reset flag) packets.
Another unofficial feature is an extension to the BitTorrent metadata format proposed by John Hoffman and implemented by several indexing websites. It allows the use of multiple trackers per file, so if one tracker fails, others can continue supporting file transfer. It is implemented in several clients, such as BitComet, BitTornado, KTorrent and µTorrent. Trackers are placed in groups, or tiers, with a tracker randomly chosen from the top tier and tried, moving to the next tier if all the trackers in the top tier fail.
Torrents with multiple trackers can decrease the time it takes to download a file, but also has a few consequences:
- Users have to contact more trackers, leading to more overhead-traffic.
- Torrents from closed trackers suddenly become downloadable by non-members, as they can connect to a seed via an open tracker.
Decentralized keyword search Edit
Even with distributed trackers, a third party is still required to find a specific torrent. This is usually done in the form of a direct hyperlink from the website of the content owner or through indexing websites like The Pirate Bay.
In May 2007 Cornell University published a paper proposing a new approach to searching a peer-to-peer network for inexact strings which could replace the functionality of a central indexing site. A year later, the same team implemented the system as a plugin for Azureus called Cubit and published a follow-up paper reporting its success.
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