OpenBitTorrent and PublicBitTorrent, the two largest BitTorrent trackers on the Internet, are on strike. Both trackers are going offline to protest the unresponsiveness of the makers of uTorrent who were asked to introduce a simple protocol enhancement that would save the non-profit trackers thousands of dollars. As a result of the protest, many people are having trouble downloading files on BitTorrent.
OpenBitTorrent (OBT) and PublicBitTorrent (PBT) are two non-profit BitTorrent trackers running on the beerware licensed Opentracker software. Neither service hosts or links to torrent files and both are free to use by all BitTorrent users.
The trackers are the two most-used BitTorrent trackers, and both are generally coordinating the downloads of tens of millions people at any given point in time. However, starting a few days ago the trackers stopped working entirely, and not without reason.
The admin of OpenBitTorrent informed TorrentFreak that both trackers are on strike. Both will remain offline until a solution is found for the massive waste of bandwidth that BitTorrent users generate as the result of incorrect tracker announces.
Trackers on Strike
Both OBT and PBT abandoned TCP support to become UDP-only trackers last year. This was done to save resources. However, because many users keep adding HTTP addresses and since many old torrents also include these, both trackers are overloaded with bogus announces.
For OpenBitTorrent this means that more bandwidth and resources are wasted on erroneous traffic than on legitimate announces.
The same problem also hurts many torrent sites that don’t even operate a tracker. Many novice users add URLs of BitTorrent indexes to the “trackers” field when they generate a torrent. This results in a flood of unwanted traffic to these sites.
The issue has been brought to the attention of BitTorrent developers in the past, and two months ago Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij submitted an official proposal to the developer forum which is operated by uTorrent’s parent company BitTorrent Inc.
Neij’s proposal is to add a functionality that allows website and tracker owners to inform BitTorrent clients whether connections are allowed or not.
The operators of PublicBitTorrent, OpenBitTorrent and many others have welcomed the proposal, but weeks passed by without a comment from BitTorrent Inc. This prompted the operators of BitTorrent’s largest tracker to go on strike.
“We can’t keep paying for a shitload of boxes because they won’t implement simple policy features,” OpenBitTorrent’s admin told TorrentFreak. “PBT and OBT are on strike until the issue is resolved, we can’t continue to pay bills that are much higher than what they should be.”
OpenBitTorrent on Strike
The bills are not the only problem either, as the admin points out that without a fix BitTorrent clients can be abused to DDoS any website.
“If you wanted to DDoS a website now with torrent clients, all you would have to do is hack a few torrent sites and add the URL of the site you want DDoSed to the torrents and magnet URLs they are displaying.”
For BitTorrent users, on the other hand, the strike of BitTorrent’s largest trackers is causing problems. Without central trackers it takes much longer to find peers, and users who don’t have DHT enabled will notice that their torrents stop working entirely if there is no backup tracker.
Luckily most torrent clients have DHT enabled by default, but there are hundreds of thousands of BitTorrent users out there who have it disabled.
TorrentFreak contacted BitTorrent Inc. before the weekend and asked them for a response to the proposal. We will add their statement to this article when it comes in, but for the time being BitTorrent users will have to do without the two largest trackers.
Update: BitTorrent told TorrentFreak that they are working on a short-term fix to resolve this issue. More on this later.