Ask LH: What's A Private BitTorrent Tracker And Why Should I Use One?

Dear Lifehacker, I've heard people murmur about "private" BitTorrent trackers and how they're so much better than sites like The Pirate Bay, but I don't really know what a private tracker is. Does it just increase my privacy? I have a Demonoid account, but I never use it. Should I be? Thanks, Secret Sharing

Dear Secret,

You do get a little increased privacy from a private tracker, but the bigger benefits include a larger selections of files, faster downloads, higher quality files, and strong communities behind them. They're called "private" because they regulate who is allowed to use the site -- it's an exclusive community. They have a lot of benefits, but they also come with a lot of rules, regulations and difficulties.

So before I continue, I want to make clear that private trackers are definitely not for everyone. You need to have a pretty strong dedication to most of these communities, and they often have strict rules about what you can and cannot do once you get invited (which is a whole process in and of itself). Most of you might be better off with something like Usenet to share and download files, because it doesn't require nearly as much work on your part. Here's what it means to be a private BitTorrent tracker, and what you'd get from being a part of one.

What Does It Mean to Be "Private"?

A BitTorrent tracker, for those of you that don't remember, is a server that regulates the communication between those downloading and uploading torrents. The defining factor of private BitTorrent trackers is that they're selective about who gets to use the site. Unlike The Pirate Bay or isoHunt, where anyone can search and download torrents, private trackers require you be invited by another user and create an account in order to use the service. If you don't know someone with an account, then you need to go through an often intense interview process to get an invite (trading or selling invites online is strictly prohibited in most cases).

In addition, they often have many rules about how you can use the site. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Rules regarding ratio: You need to have a certain upload to download ratio, meaning you can't just download torrents and delete them -- you need to seed them so others can download them too. Some sites will ban you if you have a low ratio, while others will restrict what you can do on the site (such as uploading torrents, making torrent requests, or inviting other users) if you have a low ratio.
  • Rules regarding invites: Users you invite reflect on you, and if they harm the community, it can harm your stance in the community as well (in some cases, you could be banned).
  • Rules regarding uploads: If you upload files to the site, they need to be of a certain quality, format, and/or use a certain organisational structure. Where most BitTorrent sites seem like a hodgepodge of disorganised files, private trackers are usually much more organised and quality-conscious.

These rules will vary from site to site, but that's a basic idea of what you can expect. There are a lot of great private trackers out there, most of whom have specific niches -- for example, What.CD focuses on music, BroadcastTheNet stocks lots of television and PassThePopcorn has a strong movie library. (Reminder: everything you download will be illegal -- being specialised is not the same as being authorised. The decision to use that service is one you will have to make for yourself.)

If you're interested in signing up for one, I recommend searching around for a private tracker that fits your needs, then researching that site's rules, regulations and invitation practices before joining. If you can't keep up with the rules, there's no point in even trying to get an invite, because these guys tend to be pretty serious.

I should note here that Demonoid is, for all intents and purposes, not a private tracker. It holds open signups far too often and has little to no rules regulating the community. It's so easy to get an invite or sign up that it can barely be considered private, so while it's a fine place to find torrents, don't assume you're getting any anonymity just by downloading from there. Its selection isn't much better than public sites, either, though the community is a bit better than sites like The Pirate Bay in terms of keeping things seeded (even though there's no required ratio).

What Do I Get Out of It?

That sounds like an awful lot of work just to use BitTorrent, doesn't it? Because of these rules, you get a lot of benefits, including (but again, not limited to):

  • A fantastic selection of torrents: Most of these sites pride themselves on a wide selection of whatever type of file they focus on. In fact, in many cases, it's hard to find something they don't have.
  • High quality files: Most sites have very high quality standards, and if an uploaded torrent doesn't meet them, it's deleted. If you're looking for lossless music, for example, a private tracker is a great place to start searching.
  • Crazy-fast downloads: Because the community is so committed to seeding, and because lots of them have fast internet connections, you'll sometimes get much higher speeds on private trackers compared to public ones.
  • Some increased privacy: Because the rules are so strict and the sites are so much less traveled than sites like The Pirate Bay, you're a lot less likely to have someone looking over your shoulder at everything you download. However, I wouldn't recommend a private tracker just for anonymity -- if you really want to keep your downloading private, I still highly recommend a VPN or proxy service like BTGuard.
  • A great community: The people on private trackers are very helpful in answering questions, keeping things seeded, and even uploading torrents that you request.

Should I Use One?

At this point, only you can really answer that question. Check out some tracker reviews over at Torrent Invites, and if you find a few that appeal to you, research their invite process and site rules and see if they're things you can handle. Do you know enough about BitTorrent to understand how the site is maintained? Are you able to seed your torrents often (that is, do you leave your computer on all day or have an always-on NAS to seed for you)? If the site's rules or interview process don't look like something you can handle, then I don't particularly recommend joining. Again, Usenet will get you pretty far when it comes to most things -- but if you're serious about following the rules and want a good selection of quality torrents, private trackers can be pretty awesome.

Cheers Lifehacker

PS If you have any experience with private trackers -- good or bad -- tell us in the comments. There are a lot of different trackers out there, with different niches, rules and benefits. The above is just a general summary.

Also, please don't ask for or share invites in the comments of this post. Not only is this prohibited at most private trackers, but it also spams up our comments and takes away from the conversation.

And a final reminder: a huge percentage of the content shared on private trackers violates copyright. Their popularity demonstrates that most people aren't concerned about breaking the law in this way, but don't delude yourself: the law is being broken.

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.


Comments

    If you have to ask for this - most probably private tracker isn't for you. I can sense that you'll also fail terribly at the upload ratio rules.
    And yes - Demonoid is far far away from being a private tracker.

      Hey some people may never have heard of them before, but might be excellent contributors and seeders. You don't need to run off being an elitist jackass. There was a time before you heard about private trackers.

      Demonoid is 80% not a private tracker. In fact in the last few years, they accept public downloads a couple times a day from non-members...

      But, Demonoid still is head and shoulders above the competition AFAIK. Decent community (if a little self-righteous) that only seems to complain about DL/UL ratios.
      Unfortunately most people can't be dedicated seeders for the sole reason that they're don't live alone.

      So did you have some kind of innate understanding of private trackers? It must be great to be all knowing about technology unlike regular folks who have to ask questions or do research to learn about knew things.

    Reminds me of a saying by Groucho Marx:I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.

    Don't join What.cd if you're in Australia and don't have (access to) a seedbox.

      Why not?

        Even though this reply will never get read, the answer is:
        Because no Australian ISP can compete with the upload speeds of all the other members of the site. Your ratio will be shot from the first thing your download and, despite leaving torrents running for weeks on end, you will never upload a megabyte.

          lol I read it Jake D, I read it

      Yeah, come on. Don't go throwing out comments like that. If you know something is up, spill. No need for all the secret squirrel business.

    Directing new users to TI probably isn't optimal for the private tracker career.

      Hmm.. why not? TI is a legit one that does not allow trading / breaking the site rules. The ripoff forums named similarly are the ones bad.

    Demonoid is the most public 'private' site you can find.

    Im a member of a few other private sites.
    One disadvantage is if youre late to start downloading a new file then it can be hard to get your ratio up for that file.
    Eg: I start downloading a new episode a day after its been made available. But other members have already downloaded it are are seeding. By the time Ive grabbed it theres no one else downloading it so it makes to seed it to get your ratio up.
    Some sites let you off if you seed for at least 48 hours total (not including turning your pc off over night).

      The two private sites I use count the time that I leave files to seed, not just the amount I upload while seeding. Counteracts the late downloader nicely and I can maintain a ratio above three despite living in a timezone on the other side of the world to both sites (which means I'm often asleep while new files are posted...).

    I'm on a few private trackers with a NAS, but used to leave my PC on before that. UKNova is good for expats who miss good ol' British TV. TL has a good selection of everything: movies, games, TV shows, music, anime etc. I just tend to download TV shows as Aussie FTA is appalling (ads, play eps out of order). I still buy games on Steam/Ozgameshop and get HD movies via the Playstation Store (PSN is "free" quota for me). It's hard to get a good ratio when you don't have a seedbox and/or jump on the torrent straight away. Having a watched list or RSS feed helps. The single thing that helped my ratio was the complete series of the Family Guy. I seeded that thing for a few years and now have only got my overall ratio to 4+.

    IPT was my first truly private tracker and they are wonderful. My ratio is 11+, over 12Tb uploaded. A seedbox or high speed connection is a must have if you want to to get your ratio above 1.

      IPT was the fourth private tracker I tryed and the one I stuck with. I can actually keep my ratio above 1.5 on my ADSL2+ connection.

    I have 2 - one for UK TV. I lived over there and we are addicted to a few of the shows that are never shown here. It is great. SD & HD for pretty much every show. Lots of 'free' downloads to keep your ratio up. Seeding for a day or 2 is normally enough to keep your ratio good.

    My other one is a movie site - and it is a pain to keep your ratio up. Very few 'free' downloads and because the ratio is hard to maintain you have to seed pretty much for ever (taking hard disk space) BUT, because everyone seeds (almost) for ever, the download speed is amazing.

      You should get into a music tracker too.
      If you are concerned with ratios, I'd suggest PTP and BTN, as mentioned above, as an alternative.
      PTP selects a genre for a month. Like mystery. In that month all Mystery movies upload gets 24hr freeleech. How easy and effortless method to earn buffers.
      BTN is, ratioless.

      Getting invites to those trackers can be hard, although it is not that hard.

    Pedant Mode

    "to get an invite (trading or selling invites online is strictly prohibited" - what the??

    Can I remind you that "invite", as in "to invite" is the verb, and "invitation" is the noun.

    You "invite" people to (whatever) by sending them "invitations".

    The statement above shoud read "to get an invitation (trading or selling invitations online is strictly prohibited"

    Pedant Mode

    Thank you.

      Please check your facts before writing pedantic rants. From dictionary.com:

      — n
      5. an informal word for invitation

      It doesn't matter. Language is made by people who use language and I can clearly confirm that "Give me an invite" is a commonly used sentence around in that corner of the internet.

Join the discussion!