A Look at Ubuntu (and Windows) Torrent Clients

Artist’s drawing of how bittorrent works
by Acodered

BitTorrent has been around for quite a while, and Linux has been around much longer.  BitTorrent has been around since 2001, and Linux since 1991, according to Wikipedia.  Linux users tend to be, more or less, geeks who enjoy tinkering and perfecting things.  Given such a background, why is it so hard to find a really decent BitTorrent client on Ubuntu?

When I found the article “Top 5 Bit Torrent Clients for Ubuntu” on Tech Drive-in, I thought I wouldn’t have to look much further.  IMO, though, nothing could be further from the truth.  The short version is: They all suck at what I would call basic functionality I would expect in a torrent client.

For one thing, the Transmission program that comes with Ubuntu is very basic.  In my experience, though, it seems really slow.  Given its general lack of features (which I normally would assume is lack of bloat as well), I don’t understand why it seems as though you’re downloading molasses.

I’m used to using µTorrent, which strives to be lightweight but not sacrifice in features.  In general, I had tried a couple of other Windows clients, but I came back to µTorrent every time.  So, I tried all 5 clients listed in that article and was disappointed each and every time.  Not only that, but the disappointment was double because TorrentFreak had an article about the “Top 10 uTorrent Alternatives“, and they say, “Like Deluge, this is a worthy alternative client to uTorrent.”

I’m left scratching my head, frankly.  Not all of these seem to try to estimate how much time is left in your download, which I would just automatically expect in any dedicated download client, let alone one that can be quite difficult to determine due to the decentralized nature of it.  Worse, not a single one tells you which pieces have been downloaded and which are left that I could find!

More or less, any node on the torrent network can send you a packet from any part of the file.  They talk to one another in order to not send duplicates, but which pieces you get first are not under your control.

Some files require the beginning headers in order to do any rudimentary checking.  I understand that .RAR files can be checked even before fully downloaded, although I’ve never been able to get that to work.  Some videos work the same way.  If you are downloading gigabytes of data, it is handy to know what is in the download before downloading the entire thing as a sanity check.

There is a lot of rubbish out there.  Many .RAR files, for example, are wrapped around another .RAR file with a text file inside to tell you where to get the password.  Yeah, and that is just as believable as me getting that inheritance from Nigeria.  Some videos are so vaguely described that you probably want to check it out before wasting a bunch of time downloading it, but you don’t know when you’ll be able to if you cannot determine when the header is available.  Likewise, I believe that some MP3s work the same way.

At any rate, it makes you wonder why all these wonderful programs don’t show graphically which pieces have already been downloaded in order to do such a check.

Well, the Tech Drive-In article had a comment supporting Tixati, and a subsequent “slam” of Tixati merely because it “is only available as a binary”.  Huh?  That’s a valid criticism?  You know, Windows users use µTorrent and other clients that are only available as binaries.  I mean, I sort of understand the sentiment, but how many Ubuntu users download and compile all their own code these days?

At least the TorrentFreak article had Tixati on the list.  It talks about “serious stat junkies”, and I’m guessing that knowing when a file is even partially viewable must qualify for that, judging from the other clients.  Sure enough, I downloaded it and it had a Pieces tab.  However, that is a lot like the Pieces tab on µTorrent, which isn’t all that useful, IMO.  I downloaded the latest UBCD as a test (and I need the latest, anyhow), and I was at first disappointed until I clicked on the download and then the Details tab, and voila!

I should point out that Tixati has a Windows version as well.

OK, so it’s not open source, but it does what it should.  To me, it’s no contest under Ubuntu.  Otherwise, Windows users have a choice of Tixati or µTorrent.