Will somebody please think of the trackers?

Oil of the 21st centuryIn a few days The Pirate Bay as we know it will cease to exist. You can expect a more in-depth article on the sale later on, but I want to focus on a clear and present issue at hand: when the new owners flick the tracker switch, millions of torrents will be crippled or killed. (bar DHT and similar techniques for dramatic cue !)

What could have been done? What can we do now? What can we do to prevent this in the future? Somebody, please think of the trackers!

Trackers, you say …

(Experienced users can skip this part)
The Pirate Bay’s functionality is two-fold. On one hand, it stores the torrent files itself. A torrent file is nothing more than a glorified data container with the following references:

  • number of files
  • file checksums
  • list of trackers

This last item is important. Classic Bittorrent uses a tracker, a special kind of server that tells every client where the other pieces of the file can be found. Please note that this tracker does not transfer a single bit of the actual files – it points people in the right direction. This has been the Achilles’ Heel of the Bittorrent protocol for a while, so a lot of clever people devised solutions for it: DHT, peer sharing, … – we’ll ignore these for now.

The Pirate Bay has his own tracker, which has been very popular – a lot of torrents rely on it to achieve a good share ratio. And that’s the problem: it will soon be gone.

What could have been done

It’s downright stupid to bet on one horse. If want my file to be available for a long time after I seeded it, I don’t want to rely on one tracker only. Through its popularity, The Pirate Bay reached a status where no one could see it going down for a while, so a lot of (often inexperienced) users relied on tracker.thepiratebay.org as their only source. There’s no easy way to fix those mistakes, since it would involve  editing/recreation of all the torrent files themselves.

What can we do?

Over the last few months, a lot of new initiatives have sprung up which truly understand the Hydra-like functionality needed to provide file availability at all times. Through decoupling of torrent file storage and tracking, it is very easy to add alternative trackers to track your torrents, and in the true spirit of modern day filesharing activism, they are free.

  • OpenBittorrent and (suspiciously similar) PublicBT are free trackers based on the OpenTracker technology.
  • All Pirate Bay torrents have been packed into … a torrent.
  • Torrage is a free torrent storage service.
  • I’ve been impressed by Furk.net‘s functionality too.

For the record

The #spectrial is far from over, and I still fully support any statements I made in my coverage of it. The recent sale of the website is a sad fact – a monument of the internet freedom movement will soon be devoured by corporate greed, who fail to see that the only way forward is to adapt. On the other hand, it is perfectly understandable. The Pirate Bay was ran in the free time of a couple of individuals. I can recommend this splendid article.

What is not acceptable, nor understandable, is that these individuals are still on trial in a case with incredibly thin evidence, laughable technical backing and more shit on the fan than ever. I urge everyone to look at the facts, and actively cover and comment on the further proceedings. This is not about you getting your weekly download fix of pirated music, movies or games.

It never has been.