BitTorrent Open Sources ‘Improved’ BitTorrent Protocol

BitTorrent Inc. has open sourced uTP, the BitTorrent protocol powering the latest release of uTorrent, in the hope that other BitTorrent clients will soon adopt it. UTP promises less congestion for ISPs and end users without degrading overall download speeds. Thus far, however, many BitTorrent developers outside the BitTorrent Inc. team are skeptical about the new protocol.

bittorrent incOne of the most discussed changes in uTorrent 2.0 is uTP, short for the ‘micro transfer protocol’. UTP is a new and improved implementation of the BitTorrent protocol which is designed to be more network-friendly than its predecessor.

With uTP, uTorrent has become more ‘network aware’ as it will throttle itself if congestion is detected in the network. The uTorrent teams hopes this improvement will eliminate the need for ISPs to throttle BitTorrent traffic, while its users should see less interference with other local applications and possibly faster downloads.

As advertised, uTP does indeed sound like a much-improved version of BitTorrent, but the reality is more nuanced. Over the past month there have been a lot of complaints from users who have seen their speeds decrease dramatically due to the implementation of the new protocol and not all developers are that exited either.

Increased overhead compared to the older protocol is cited as one of the reasons for the speed issues and some ‘fixes’ have been suggested on the uTorrent forums. There is a great upgrade guide submitted by community member Rafi which tries to solve these issues, but in the end uTorrent should address these concerns themselves. By default, uTP should perform equally well or better than its predecessor.

One of the steps to improve the implementation of uTP has been taken this week as BitTorrent Inc. decided to open source the code. By doing so they are inviting other BitTorrent developers to help improve uTP and to implement it into other BitTorrent clients to increase compatibility.

“uTP continues to evolve, and open sourcing the code will be essential in its continued development and adoption,” BitTorrent spokesperson Jenna Broughton told TorrentFreak in a comment. In response to the critique about slower speeds, Broughton adds that “BitTorrent has always believed that being transparent with users about technology and product developments is key.”

“uTP is a smart approach to managing network congestion, and we are encouraged by the early results we have seen from independent tests as well as our own, which indicate that uTP does not degrade download speeds and may indeed be faster,” Broughton adds, without going into detail on the speed issues that have been reported by many users in the forums.

One of the reasons uTP has been developed is to make traffic shaping and BitTorrent throttling by ISPs obsolete. Unfortunately there has not been any feedback from major ISPs on these issues, so the magnitude of uTP’s effect on their networks remain unknown.

“We have not received any formal feedback from ISPs. Informally, several technical insiders have confirmed a noticeable shift in traffic from TCP to uTP, and they seem generally positive about the deployment thus far. Universally, they commend the spirit of cooperation in helping manage congestion on the network,” Broughton told us.

Although it’s widely appreciated that uTP is now Open Source, developers of other clients are not all that eager to implement it yet. Vuze, one of uTorrent’s major competitors, told TorrentFreak that they will keep an eye on how it evolves before they make any decisions. Others have pointed out that uTP still has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream.

That said, there are bound to be issues when one is trying to innovate. There are still a lot of issues to be addressed with uTP, the most important being good speeds for everyone by default. The future will tell whether uTP is really the improvement BitTorrent Inc. claims it to be.

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