There are two primary methods of transferring popular and/or large files on the internet. Everybody has heard of bittorrent, which was somewhat of a revolution, and has been in the media enough that it would be hard not to have heard of it. The second, slightly less popular method is filesharing sites. Sites such as Rapidshare, Megaupload, Netload, Megashares and the like.
Bittorrent became the dominant method, due to its decentralized nature, and the ease of which files can be distributed. However, filesharing sites have been around for a lot longer, and tend to remain more constant, while bittorrent can change as features continue to be added, and the protocol continues to be improved. There has recently been some speculation that filesharing sites are starting to surpass torrents as a distribution method. Filesharing sites seem to have a negative reputation for some reason, and are prone to many misconceptions. I feel that there can be many advantages to using filesharing sites over torrents, depending on the situation.
Some of the common misconceptions of filesharing sites I have noted are:
- Payment – These sites do not requires payment to use. They are free to a point, with some limitations. Limitations that do not really stand in the way of downloading files. The limitations are detailed in the following points. It should be noted that the only limitations of a paid account, is something a download limit of something like 20gb per day. It should also be noted, that there are other ways to get a premium account other than through payment. If you have a free account, and enough people download your files, you will earn enough points to exchange for a premium account.
- Captchas – The captchas only apply to the free accounts, are extremely easy to read and not at all annoying, do not apply to the premium accounts, and in any case, can be circumvented using an automatic downloader program such as rapget or jdownloader.
- Advertising – There is hardly any advertising on these sites. Most of them have no advertising at all. They make there money through people paying for accounts. If there is advertising, it tends to be through a non-invasive banner ad or something similar. Netload has a popup ad, but considering that I can download up to 400mb at more than 1.3MBps every 40 minutes, I have no problem with this. Again, for the few sites that do have advertising, it can be circumvented using a client downloader program, or adblocker. Of course, a premium account would not be subject to advertising.
- Speed limiting – The free services will limit speed, but to a reasonable level. And, not all of them do. Rapidshare does not allow unrestricted use of their servers, however I generally download with speeds between 200Kbps and 500Kbps without a premium account. I can max out my 10Mbps connection using Netload. In general, simply using the free services of these sites, I have found it faster in many cases to download entire series than it is using bittorrent.
- Time limiting – with the free services, and depending on the service, there can be a time limit of between 15 minutes and 2 hours before you can download a file again. Megaupload for example has no time limit, but a download limit of approximately 1gb, which then blocks you for about six hours. Netload has a 40 minute limit, but you can often download the entire file in the first go. Megashares is quite bad, having a 200mb limit and a 2 hour wait, while Rapidshare has a 15 minute wait. I generally use Rapidshare, and it is not so much an issue, but paying for a premium account does make a huge difference.
- Size limiting – Again, this depends on the service. Most sites will restrict the free services to downloading a certain amount per a time period, but generally this is reasonable. These limits are removed with a paid account, or if they remain, they are so large as to not be an issue.
Advantages of file sharing sites, compared to torrents
- Popularity – I have found torrents are only useful for newer, or popular stuff. Want to track down some films from a festival, tv shows from last decade, or locally released CD’s? If no one cares about them, then no one will be sharing them. On the other hand, all it takes is for someone to have uploaded it on a file sharing site, and they are easy to grab. They usually remain for six months after the last download, so things are easier to find. No issues with slow speeds because only one other person in Japan has it or worrying about seeding.
- Redundancy – Often, torrents are limited to a tracker, or a few seeds. This can be hell if you are trying to grab something fast. With filesharing, this is not a problem. The files once downloaded, can easily be uploaded as many times to as many different file servers as wanted, often posted on specialized but easy to find and register forums. An example at the moment, is Demonoid. The popular tracker has been offline for over a month, and many torrents that relied on it simply won’t work. DHT is helping with this, but is not quite there yet.
- Speed – As noted above, the speed provided by the free services is not at all an issue. I can often paste about 50 links for a series into jdownloader or so, and come back from work and have most episodes completed. In addition, the speed is constant, as it is provided by professional data centers. This is nice, and when you get good speeds from torrents, they can’t be matched. But, that is seldom, and as above, reliant on popularity. I prefer having constant speeds available.
- Connections – Unlike with torrents, there is no connection limit. With torrents, you can only have a certain number of open connections per torrent, and a certain number of torrents before your connection will flail out. This is not the case with file sharing services, as a single HTTP connection is made to a premium server. You can have as many connections as your connection can handle, with each download only requiring one open connection.
- Uploading – There is no need to upload. Due to the way torrents work, a certain amount should (often must) be uploaded in proportion to how much you download. In practice, this is not so much an issue, although it can affect your ultimate downloading speed, or reputation/status in a community. This is quite a problem in countries where an internet connection is expensive, and uploads costly, such as in a 3rd world country, Australia, or at a university. With filesharing, this is not a problem. There is no need to upload, as the load and distribution is handled by a professional datacenter. Those people who are able to upload, can of course seed or reupload the file to another fileservice to ensure it stays up.
- Firewalls – Torrents use an arbitrary listening port and will have many incoming connections from many different sources. Some places will not like this, and prevent you from using bittorrent, such as at work or universities. By contrast, file services simply use HTTP and port 80, and are unable to be banned. Often, the file names are not indicative of the content, and so no suspicion will be aroused.
- Privacy/Risk – A minor point, but one worth mentioning. Most copyright legislation in western countries has penalties for distributing copyrighted content. People only downloading, and not ‘making available’, tend to be left alone. Torrents, due to their design, tend to require you to upload what you download. This is prone to some problems, such as being accused of distributing copyrighted content, people sniffing what you are downloading etc. By contrast, file sharing services generally have files archived, so the data being downloaded would not be easily identified. More importantly, you are only downloading, and at no stage making anything available, so there is substantially less of a legal risk.
- Centralized – File sharing sites, by their nature, are centralized. Files can be traced back to a specific account and server. This means it is relatively easy for a file to be taken down or removed, if it is found to be infringing. Unlike torrents, where the actual torrent must be removed and several trackers taken down, and even these steps may not prevent the torrent from continuing to work due to the use of DHT. I have not found this to be an issue, as for every file instance that is removed, another 20 appear.
- Price – It is true that you only get full service if you pay for it. Practically no download limits, no waiting period etc. Often for a modest price, for example Raidshare is about €7/month. I find that these services are completely usable without having to pay, but there may be some instances, such as if you only tend to download newly released and popular content, and have a stupidly fast internet connection, that torrents would be a better option. In either case, it is worth noting again that you can obtain a premium account by earning points, which are earned every time people download your files.
- User/connection limit – Sometimes you will see a message similar to “too many users are currently downloading this file, please try again later”. In practice, I have seen this message only very rarely, and the waiting period is normally very short. It is certainly no worse than getting a torrent full of leechers or waiting for peers with a decent speed.
- Download wait – When using the free services, you can not download instantly as soon as one download finishes. There is a time wait, with the amount of time depending on the service. This can be a pain, although I generally use Rapidshare, and the wait is only 15 minutes. generally, on each of these sites, you also have to enter a captcha, which is not at all a security feature, and something used to sell the advantages of an account. I tend to use a downloading manager, jdownloader, which automatically looks after the waiting period and can enter captchas automatically.
Hopefully, this entry has dispelled some of the common myths and misconceptions associated with these sites. Using services like Netload for files that are released more frequently makes sense. The 40 minute wait is a non issue, and the amazing speed means you can be entertained in about a minute. Sites like Rapidshare are useful for bulk downloading, in a way that you can paste links into a download manager and forget about them. Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages, with what is best ultimately relying on what you are looking for, and the limitations of your internet connection.
Finally, it is worth mentioning DC++. I discovered DC++ in 2001, or perhaps 2002, and used it right through until 2005, when I lost my laptop after a Ryanair employee dropped it at Prestwick airport. DC++ was a breath of fresh air. With spyware invested Kazaa dominating the scene, torrents being too slow for most stuff at first, and file sharing sites not real existing, it was ideal. The way it worked, was rather than one huge network ala Kazaa and the like, and unlike the torrenting model with trackers and such, DC++ worked with many different decentralized networks, called hubs. Anyone was able to start a hub, and many already existed. Many in Sweden and other countries with insanely fast internet connections and bandwidth to share. There were hubs for many different things, e.g. a Buffy hub, a Stargate hub, a Sci-Fi network of hubs etc. You would search from users with the hub or network of hubs, and then download from those user directly. There is no requirement to unload any certain amount, although there often are certain requirements to share a certain amount. Back in the day, a 20gb requirement would have been a lot, although today it is nothing. It may be worth checking out, for a hassle free and fast alternative to torrents and file sharing sites.