In recent years, browser-based torrent clients or so-called ‘web torrent’ clients have become increasingly available.
That doesn’t mean that web-based torrent clients are necessarily better (they aren’t) or even more popular than their desktop counterparts.
In this article, we’ll look at the differences between desktop and web-based bittorrent clients, the relative advantages of each, and which is better for your needs.
DownloadPrivacy’s Take: Browser-based torrent clients are convenient and easy to use, but they have serious tradeoffs when it comes to stability, performance and privacy (most importantly).
What is a Web-Based Torrent Client?
Web-based torrent clients are torrent clients that run completely in your web browser, either as a browser addon, extension, or standalone web-page.
Examples of Web-based torrent clients
As far as branded standalone Web-based clients, there are currently two popular ones.
The most popular browser-based torrent client is uTorrent Web, which is the in-browser version of the popular uTorrent desktop software.
Bittorrent.com (same parent company as uTorrent) has their own near-identical version called BitTorrent Web.
Cloud Torrent Downloaders
Torrents-as-a-service sites like Seedr aren’t really torrent clients, they’re more like simple seedboxes. They let you quickly download any file including torrent links right from your browser.
The key difference, however, is that their servers are connecting to the torrent peers, rather than your browser initiating the connections directly. Because of this, cloud downloaders don’t really fall into the same category as browser-based torrent clients.
Pros & Cons of Browser-based Torrents
Considering how hard uTorrent and BitTorrent’s websites try to push you towards their web-based clients, you’d think they’re the best option.
For most users, however, this isn’t true at all. Instead these companies promote their browser-based version because it’s more profitable for them due to better advertising CPMs and ad targeting capabilities.
Here’s an objective look at the pros and cons of using a browser-based torrent client:
Browser-based torrent clients are simplistic by design, which can make them easier to use for novice bittorrent users. They tend to have a streamlined interface with few options, which helps you just focus on downloading & streaming.
Aside from simplicity, the main advantage is the ability to use browser-based clients in certain situations where you couldn’t simply install the (more functional) desktop client, like on a shared computer or office setting (though this is a really bad idea).
Some people point to the streaming feature, which allows you to download torrent pieces sequentially and stream media files before the download is complete. However this isn’t a significant advantage because it’s a feature that’s available in numerous free desktop clients including Vuze, BiglyBT and qBittorrent.
uTorrent and BitTorrent desktop restrict this feature to the pro version, but that’s really just a gimmick to get you to pay. It’s just one more reason uTorrent is one of the worst torrent clients around these days.
In my experience, the cons of using a in-browser torrent clients largely outweigh the advantages. My biggest gripes have to do with performance, limited privacy options, and a lack of open-source options.
Most of the popular browser-based torrent clients are owned by for-profit companies like BitTorrent Inc. Privacy is not their main concert, and you can be sure that there is a financial incentive for them to push you towards the browser version rather than desktop.
Slow Speeds / Performance
Browsers-based torrent clients cannot use system resources as efficiently as standalone desktop clients can. They’re also more prone to crashing and errors.
The net result is that you get a less-stable torrent client with slower overall speeds.
Ads / Privacy
Web torrent clients like uTorrent Web and BitTorrent Web are monetized (in part) by ads and embedded tracking pixels. This lets advertisers serve you extremely targeted ads, and even continue to track your browsing activity (like purchases) after you exit the torrent app.
For an application like BitTorrent where privacy is essential, harmful practices like this are unacceptable in my book.
No Proxy Support
You can still use a VPN with browser-based clients, but SOCKS proxies aren’t widely supported (unless you configure them at the system level). This means you have one less option for anonymizing your IP address when torrenting.
Some users may like the clean, limited interface of a client like uTorrent Web, but it comes at a cost. You have very little ability to customize the functionality of web-based clients, or add advanced features like Tor support, IP-binding, Blocklists and so on.
For my money, a lean desktop client like Transmission or qBitTorrent is a better option.