Can I expect to see widespread software support for Metalink too?

There's already a wide range of software that works with Metalink, and more is on its way in coming months. Right now, for example, you can already use Aria2, KGet and wxDownload Fast on Linux, because all of them support Metalink today. Plans are already underway to add it to core tools such as Curl and Wget, which would enable Metalink support as standard for any apps that build on those.

But if Firefox doesn't support it, what does it matter? It would be too much hassle to change browsers just for a download client!

Actually, DownThemAll is a cross-platform Firefox extension that already supports Metalink. A feature request/bug report has already been submitted to Mozilla to ask for Metalink support to be added as standard, and it seems likely that it will be integrated into the core browser eventually.

So it seems like everyone is waiting, at least until support grows a little more.

No – it's the exact opposite, in fact! Mandriva already uses Metalink for its Urpmi package management tool. Fedora already uses Metalink for Yum. Arch Linux is considering switching Pacman to use Metalink. Wubi, the Windows installer for Ubuntu, uses Metalink to download the distro.

Wow, I never realised!

Exactly – Metalink is already in more places than you think, because it's being used behind the scenes. It's only recently that Metalink is starting to be used for end-user file distribution, which is why it's important to know what it does and perhaps even try using it yourself.

So where am I likely to come across actual Metalink files? Heck, for that matter, how do I even know when I've been given a Metalink file?!

I'll answer your questions in reverse. You'll know you're looking at a Metalink file because its file extension is .metalink. Usually this is tacked on to the name of whatever file you wanted to download, so it will be something like ubuntu-9.04.iso.metalink. When you click that, you might get a BitTorrent link, you might get HTTP, you might get FTP, or you might get a combination – it depends on how the download has been configured, and also how you've configured your Metalink software.

And my first question?

Oh, yes – where you can find them right now. Like I said before, lots of distros already use Metalink to distribute their ISO files – 64 Studio, Belenix, Damn Small Linux, Fedora, Linux Mint, OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS, Puppy Linux, Sabayon Linux and Ubuntu already have Metalink files for you to use…

That was pretty fast take-up!

Absolutely, and it's no surprise, because it means you tell your download client once "I prefer direct downloads" or "always use BitTorrent if available", and Metalink takes care of the rest – sites don't need to list lots of mirrors any more, because Metalink fills in all the gaps for them.

OK, I'm all excited now! I want to go ahead and start downloading at top speed! Could you give me a little reading material to occupy my brain while I'm waiting for my files to finish?

Start with www.metalinker.org – it outlines the key features briefly, makes it easy to find Metalink-enabled apps, and even has helpful links for people who want to help encourage developers to implement Metalink in their applications. Check it out!

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First published in Linux Format Issue 119

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