Streaming services are gaining ground as one of the most popular ways to enjoy TV shows, music and movies, but torrents still have their place for downloading large files that you want to keep.
Torrent clients turn your computer into part of a swarm where data is shared as it's downloaded, so while you're downloading something from other people you're also helping others download the bits you've already got. The result is a very reliable and often very fast way to get your hands on huge files.
Torrents have a bad reputation for their use for illegal file-sharing, but they have many legitimate uses, including sharing free software, downloading music released for free by artists, and as a way to download large files you've already paid for.
Torrent files are incredibly useful, but to use them, you need the right software. Here are the best free torrent clients around.
Are torrents legal?
Torrents have a bad reputation due to piracy, but they aren't illegal in themselves and have lots of legitimate uses, including downloading open source software and material that's in the public domain.
It all depends on the content you're downloading. Provided the copyright holder has given permission for the file to be shared this way it's fine, but using torrents to download content you'd otherwise have to pay for is illegal.
A balance of features, speed and simplicity: the best free torrent client
Some torrent clients offer every conceivable function. Others keep things as simple as possible.
qBittorrent sits right in the middle, aiming to "meet the needs of most users while using as little CPU and memory as possible".
It boasts an integrated torrent search engine, media player, encryption, prioritisation of torrents and the files within those torrents, IP filtering and torrent creation, and it's the closest open source, junk-free equivalent to uTorrent.
If you're looking for a cross-platform torrent client that covers the essentials without getting overly complicated, qBittorrent is great.
A feature-packed torrent client if you don't mind the ads
Vuze (formerly Azureus) claims to be the most powerful BitTorrent client on Earth. We're not sure how it ranks on other planets, but it's certainly a serious contender for that title.
There are two flavours: the stripped-back Vuze Leap, and the fully fledged Vuze Plus. Both offer torrent download, media playback and support for magnet file links, but Vuze Plus adds integrated virus protection and the ability to preview media files.
One of Vuze's key selling points is its interface, which slices through jargon and makes even the more advanced features accessible to new users.
Vuze also offers bandwidth limiting, IP filtering, and all the other features you'd expect from a robust torrent client. Definitely one of the first options to consider.
A customizable client that can be as lean or powerful as you want
Deluge has been around forever, and it can be as simple or as powerful as you want it to be. That's because it's extendable via plug-ins, which effectively enable you to build your own personalised version of Deluge.
Fancy something that resembles uTorrent without the unwanted software? No problem. Want to add alphabetical downloading, move downloaded files to specific directories according to the file type, adjust speed according to network conditions, create pretty graphs, schedule everything, integrate with Chrome or Firefox, or batch-rename downloads? That's not a problem either.
An incredibly lightweight client maintained by BitTorrent itself
uTorrent, also known as µTorrent, has been around since 2005 and it's the most widely used free torrent client outside China. It's attracted some criticism over the years, however: it's ad-supported and many users argue that the most recent versions are a little too heavy on the advertising and bundled software front. Make sure you read each step of the installer carefully and uncheck any software you don't want to install.
That aside, uTorrent is useful, effective and doesn't gobble up too much of your system's resources: the entire app is smaller than a digital photo. Although it isn't the official BitTorrent app, it's been maintained by BitTorrent for the last decade.
It's worth noting that uTorrent has a record of security problems, the most recent of which had the potential to let hackers control key functions of the client and spy on users' downloads. BitTorrent has since released a patch for the vulnerability.
BitTorrent's own client, with web-based seeding and comments
You might be wondering why BitTorrent has its own torrent client when it also maintains uTorrent – especially when the BitTorrent app is a rebranded version of uTorrent. Are you still following us?
However, while the apps are functionally identical there are a few key differences: BitTorrent offers web-based seeding, commenting and reviewing, and you may find that the BitTorrent client is welcomed by private trackers that don't like uTorrent.
- Just want videos? See our guide to the best free YouTube downloaders
Check out our VPNs Explained video below.