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The Pirate Bay Trackers Go Offline Forever
November 17, 2009
Thomas Mennecke
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Any other time in The Pirate Bay's history, news about their centralized tracking servers going offline would be cause for celebration within the entertainment industry. Today, the crew of The Pirate Bay (whoever they are) have announced just that - the centralized and vulnerable server network that helped prop up the world’s largest BitTorrent-based P2P network has gone offline. Depending on who you are, this is cause for celebration or aggravation.

If you're in the entertainment industry...

News about The Pirate Bay’s tracker network going offline isn't cause for celebration - sorry. The server network that has helped connect peers for the better part of the decade has grown old and tired. And more importantly, it has become obsolete. There are two important alternatives to centralized trackers, DHT (Distributed Hash Tables) and local peer exchange.

The leading BitTorrent clients, µTorrent and Vuze, are both more than capable of extending the BitTorrent protocol beyond the confines of a central tracker. DHT is basically a decentralized version of the tracker network. It provides a network overlay that BitTorrent clients can tap into for additional peers - and that's basically the name of the game with BitTorrent. As long as peers can link up, it doesn't matter if the mechanism performing this task is centralized or not – the results are the same. DHT has been an overwhelming success and it seems its day has finally arrived.

While DHT takes care of the big picture, modern BitTorrent clients can also take advantage of collecting peers on the local level. That's where local exchange comes into play. µTorrent and Vuze both can find local peers, which is particularly useful on LANs and small networks. Working cooperatively, utilizing local peers can lead to blazing download speeds - but considering the carousel nature of BitTorrent users - can potentially damage the health of the swarm. But that's a minor issue when we consider the proliferation of the BitTorrent protocol, and that DHT does most of the heavy lifting compared to local exchange anyway.

The bottom line is apparent. Centralized trackers have become an unstable liability in the BitTorrent community, and it's time to move on. Like most things P2P, adaptability is key to success, and considering that things have gone rather swimmingly despite the struggling nature of centralized trackers, it's not surprising to see The Pirate Bay's latest announcement.

If you're a BitTorrenter...

If you live and breathe P2P, today's news shouldn't come as either a surprise or a disappointment. BitTorrent isn't going anywhere, and neither is The Pirate Bay. But you may ask, “How on earth will we find creative commons, copylefted, fair-use material?” The answer is simple – magnet links.

Magnet links are a familiar sight in P2P land. eDonkey2000 uses them to great success, and it seems that The Pirate Bay will take a chapter out of P2P history to make this whole non-centralized tracker venture work. Magnet links, coupled with BitTorrent, will work virtually the same as it does now. However, instead of downloading a .torrent file via HTTP, it will simply communicate the necessary metadata directly to the client. From what we’ve seen so far, it seems quite easy and should be intuitive for just about everyone.

So it’s the dawn of a new age in the BitTorrent realm – and one that many have anticipated for a long time.

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