How to open .torrent files (and other common BitTorrent file formats)

What is a .torrent file and how do you open one? This guide will walk you through the process of starting a torrent and extracting the completed file.

We’ll cover:

  • .torrent files
  • magnet links
  • extracting torrent files

What is a .torrent file?

A .torrent file is a text file that contains metadata for a specific torrent.

When someone creates a new torrent, their torrent client will also output a .torrent file which can be uploaded or announced to trackers in order to distribute the file.

Typically .torrent files will contain the following pieces of metadata:

  • Trackers: List of trackers to announce to
  • Date: Creation date
  • Files: List and location of included files
  • Length: Number of included ‘pieces’ the torrent is broken into
  • Pieces: an SHA-1 hash for each included ‘piece’ of the torrent file

Magnet Links (alternative to .torrent files)

Many trackers are moving to magnet links instead of .torrent files. Magnet links serve the same purpose as .torrent files, but contain less metadata.

Instead, they just contain a unique hash of the complete torrent file. This hash can then be used to find peers directly from the bittorrent network.

The process for opening magnet links is basically identical to .torrent clients as magnet links are supported by all modern torrent clients.

How to open .torrent files

You can open .torrent files and magnet links on any operating system that is officially supported by at least one bittorrent client.

To open .torrent files (or magnet links) you’ll first need a compatible BitTorrent client preinstalled on your system. Once installed, your client should automatically open any .torrent files for you. You can also manually add a new .torrent file in your client via the ‘add torrent’ dialogue in the menu.

Steps to open a torrent file:

  1. Install a compatible BitTorrent Client
  2. Download the .torrent file
  3. Open the .torrent file
  4. Download the corresponding torrent

1. Install a BitTorrent Client

Your BitTorrent client is the software that reads .torrent files and magnet links. It’s also responsible for managing tracker and peer communications, downloading torrent files and managing your torrent queue.

In order to open .torrent files on your system, you’ll first need a torrent client already installed. The best choice depends on your OS, but here are my top recommendations:

Best Torrent Client by OS:

All of the torrent clients listed above are 100% free. qBittorrent is open-source and ad-free as well.

Recommended: Associate your torrent client software with .torrent files and magnet URIs (option during installation)

2. Download the .torrent file

Downloading a .torrent file to your PC
Download the .torrent file to your device

The next step is to download the .torrent file to your computer. This will be practically instant since .torrent files are only a few KB.

Save it to a directory where you can easily access it, such as your downloads folder or desktop.

3. Open the .torrent file

Next, open the .torrent file in your torrent client. There are a few ways to do this:

Ways to open the .torrent file

  • Double-click the .torrent file
  • Right-click and select ‘open’ from the context menu
  • Open your torrent client, select ‘Add Torrent’ and choose the .torrent file from your hard drive

If you have previously associated the torrent client with .torrent files, it should load automatically. If not, you can manually select your torrent client as the preferred software when your OS tries to open the file.

4. Download the torrent

Once the .torrent file is open in your client, it should import all of the metadata about the file and add it to your torrent queue. It’ll then start downloading automatically as soon as there is a free download slot open in your queue (assuming there are seeds available).

How to Extract Downloaded Torrents

Downloading the torrent is just the first step. Many torrents (especially software or large archives of files) will be packaged in some sort of archive format that needs to be extracted (or mounted) to run.

Common File Formats in BitTorrent

Aside from instantly playable media formats like .mp4, .mp3 etc, BitTorrent downloads are often bundled or compressed in a variety of formats.

Here are BitTorrent file extensions some you’ll commonly find:

  • Archive Formats
    • ZIP – Standard .zip compressed archives. These can automatically be extracted on desktop OS’s like Windows.
    • RAR – Proprietary compressed archive format (alternative to zip)
    • 7z – Proprietary archive format created by 7zip software (free)
  • Mirror Formats
    • ISO – Uncompressed disk image format. Essentially a mirror of a DVD or CD disk.

How to Extract Archives (zip, rar, 7z, tar)

With so many different archive formats (ZIP, RAR, 7Z, Tar, GZIP etc…) it can be frustrating to download a file format that you can’t automatically extract on your operating system.

For example, out of the box, Windows can only extract ZIP files.

The good news, however, is that you only need one free program which can handle all of these file formats for you. It’s called 7-zip, and it can easily extract more than a dozen different archive filetypes (including all of those mentioned above).

Extracting a zip archive with 7zip (windows)

7zip is completely free and is available for all major desktop Operating Systems including: Windows, MacOS & Linx.

How to open .ISO files

If you’re torrenting software, you’ll vary often see the .iso file extension. This is a standard open-source format for disk imaging. Basically it’s a perfect copy of optical media like a CD or DVD.

There are two ways to use .iso files:

  • Burn it – If you have a DVD writer on your computer, you can burn ISO files right to DVD or CD media and use them just like a normal disk.
  • Mount it – If you don’t have a DVD burner you can ‘mount’ the ISO files as a virtual drive on your computer. Then you can access or run the stored files just like if you burned them to DVD. Here’s how to mount ISO files.

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