uTorrent Interview

Two weeks ago the deal between PeerFactor and the uTorrent developer Ludvig Strigeus caused quite some controversy in the p2p and BitTorrent scene. This is mainly because PeerFactor is known for their Peer-against-Peer and other anti-piracy work. However, they take another route now. focusing on improving legitimate filesharing techniques.

Today p2pnet’s Alex H did an exclusive Q&A with with uTorrent’s Ludvig Strigeus:

Alex H: Last time we spoke you guys had just released uTorrent 1.1.4. Now you’ve just released uTorrent 1.5. How far has uTorrent come with the 1.5 release? What’s new?

Ludde: uTorrent 1.5 is a significant release that’s a big milesone for us. The new major changes in 1.5 are support for Protocol Encryption (i.e. Message stream encryption) and Peer Exchange (a feature that lets peers interchange peers with each other, and reduces the need for a working tracker, it makes BitTorrent more distributed). A lot of work has also been spent on optimizing the downloading speeds, uTorrent should now download much more efficiently than before.

In combination with this, a new algorithm for optimized disk accesses has been implemented. Previous versions would hit the disk much more often, while the new automatic disk cache tries to minimize this.

The time between releases, a whopping 2 months, is the longest time ever in uTorrent’s history. This shows that 1.5 is really a big change compared to 1.4 (The number of changes is well over a hundred), and we’ve worked to perfecting it down to the smallest detail.

Other notable things that have been added since 1.1.4 (when you last interviewed us) include:

* RSS Reader: Allows uTorrent to automatically fetch releases (such as TV-shows) as soon as they are released. This helps uTorrent to become a better content-on-demand platform, since it will automatically help users download the content they need. A nice RSS tutorial can be found on the webpage for the users that are unsure about how RSS works.

* Unicode support: The same executable can be used both in Unicode mode (windows 2000 or later) or in ANSI compability mode (windows ME or earlier). This is a quite unique feature for native Win32 programs. Unicode is a relatively new universal way of representing characters inside the computer, which means that uTorrent is compatible with foreign torrents (such as those with chinese filenames), while still being able to run properly on old platforms. Support for old platforms like Windows 95 is an important goal for us, not because the user base is there, but it shows that we care about how the application performs for all users.

* Mainline-DHT: This was added in uTorrent 1.2. It means Distributed Hash Table, and is a nice technology that really minimizes the dependency on the tracker. DHT allows uTorrent to receive peers through a distributed network of peers, so the tracker is not needed.

We’ve come a long way since 1.1.4, now uTorrent is really one of the serious contenders in the BitTorrent scene. We concentrate on adding mainstream features that are easy to use, and benefit the majority of the user base, and thus uTorrent is geared towards both normal users and “expert” users that know the inns and outs of their computer.

Alex H: Who makes up the uTorrent team now?

Ludde: The uTorrent team consists of:

* Ludvig Strigeus (ludde) – Sole uTorrent Developer
* And some of the most notable members of the uTorrent community:
* Giancarlo Martínez (Firon) – Support technician and my right hand.
* Timothy Su (Ignorantcow) – Website designer
* Maciej Trebacz (mav) – In charge of translations
* Carsten Niebuhr (Directrix) – Working on the upcoming webinterface
* Ludovic Arnaud (Ashe) – Working with website efficiency/admin frontend

Then there are a bunch of other people hanging around in the IRC channels/Forums helping people and helping me.

Alex H: uTorrent worked with Azureus to develop the Message Stream Encryption specs. What does it do and how does it do it?

Ludde: It is basically an encrypted wrapper around the BitTorrent traffic. This makes it a lot harder for Internet Service Providers to block or throttle the BitTorrent traffic, as they can’t determine as easily if the traffic really is BitTorrent. Blocking is obviously of interest to them, since it has been estimated that at least 30% of all Internet traffic is BitTorrent.

All data packets are encrypted with a key generated at run time, so there is no way for a 3rd party to observe what kind of files that are being transmitted by just analysing the packet stream. However, characteristics of the BitTorrent protocol, such as packet sizes, or the fact that a client connects to a large number of peers, can still be used to infer that BitTorrent activity is going on, so the encryption is not a universal solution.

Alex H: Can the PHE specifications work with other protocols, or is it a BitTorrent-only thing?

Ludde: It was designed to be as general as possible, and to not be dependent on BitTorrent, so it can (in theory) be used to encrypt other protocols. Just like SSL can be used to encrypt other things than HTTP.

Alex H: What was it like collaborating with rival developers? Was it just “Team uTorrent” and “Team Azureus”, or were there other individuals involved too?

Ludde: We are not really “rival developers” even though we work on “competing” clients. I have a healthy relationship with the Azureus team and we’re cooperating openly. My goal is not to destroy Azureus. I want to provide a lightweight alternative to Azureus for the people that believe that Azureus’s requirements in terms of CPU/Memory are too high.

Alex H: Last week Slyck.com published a story that revealed a deal between a company called PeerFactor and Ludvig Strigeus, uTorrent’s developer. How does uTorrent fit into this? Is Ludde working for the “dark side”? Have you sold out as some people are claiming?

Ludde: I can’t believe how much this deal has been blown up. The whole hysteria started with the Slyck.com article saying that uTorrent is cooperating with RetSpan and working with Anti-P2P organizations. Later the article was updated because that statement was factually incorrect. Yet I believe a large number of users still have doubts about uTorrent’s legitimacy.

The deal as such is not even about uTorrent. I will provide the company (PeerFactor, a startup company started in late 2005), with a small DLL-file that can be used for one thing only – Downloading files from BitTorrent network. The deal is not between uTorrent and PeerFactor, and it does not affect uTorrent. I’m just using some of my expertise to help them develop an application that webmasters can use to publish big content on their websites. I don’t even give out any source code.

I can’t show you our agreement, but uTorrent is not even mentioned in our deal. There are no mentions of any Anti-P2P ideas, and PeerFactor owns NO rights to the BitTorrent code. The deal is just between me (Ludvig Strigeus) as a developer and PeerFactor. It’s not related to uTorrent at all. The license has no malicious intent towards P2P users, and it does not affect uTorrent in any way. The contract explicitly states that they can only use it for the designated purpose, and not for anything else such as monitoring P2P users.

Alex H: Who was at the meeting with PeerFactor?

Ludde: I have not even met anyone in person, I havn’t even talked to them on the phone! All our communication has been on e-mails and IRC. This is not a big contract. It’s just a small side project to try to get some payment for the effort involved in writing a BitTorrent protocol stack.

Alex H: What does this .dll file do exactly?

Ludde: The DLL file component that I have exports a few basic functionalities such as

* Start downloading a torrent
* Stop it
* Pause
* Remove it
* Determine how many % was downloaded.

It contains no functionality whatsoever for retreiving IP-addresses of peers.

The DLL file wasn’t written specifically for PeerFactor. It’s a generic download DLL with a small size/footprint that I have developed as a separate project. I just made some minor adjustments so it would meet PeerFactor’s requirements.

Alex H: Do you know, or can you speculate on what PeerFactor plans to do with the .dll?

Ludde: The goal is to use unused bandwidth of Internet users to distribute big files, like trial games, free trial music and trailers. It is not related to fake files.

Alex H: How is the deal structured? Is it a straight sale or a lease? Is there some kind of royalty payment to Ludde?

Ludde: It’s a 6-month lease. PeerFactor will evaluate if the DLL fits with their requirements. No source is involved, and all ownership to the code belongs to me. I have not been paid anything, but if the service turns out to work, I will get some form of payment. I don’t have an employment contract with PeerFactor. I do not work for them, and they do not have control over any decisions I make related to uTorrent.

Alex H: PeerFactor has ties to French anti-P2P company RetSpan. Is there still a relationship there?

Ludde: No, the person I’ve been in contact with has assured me that there is no relationship at all between PeerFactor and RetSpan. I trust him, and if it turns out that there is a connection, I will not work with them.

Alex H: The uTorrent website was put on a block list a few days ago. How did it happen? Is there anything on the uTorrent website that is a security risk for users?

Ludde: These blocklists are created by a bunch of over-paranoid people (Bluetack). The software PeerGuardian has temporarily handed over list creation to Bluetack, and Bluetack prefers to be better safe than sorry. Their decision was based on incorrect facts, and it will take some time before the block gets removed.

Alex H: There is a certain level of mistrust directed at closed source applications like uTorrent. Why is the uTorrent source code not available? Will uTorrent ever be open source?

Ludde: There are no plans to make uTorrent open source. If uTorrent becomes open source, it will result in hacked clients, or companies modifying the code and creating malware clients. If uTorrent is closed source, I can make sure that the quality of uTorrent stays high and that it doesn’t become a bloated client. Further, it makes sure that the source code is not used by dubious companies or for dubious purposes.

Alex H: Is there anything in the uTorrent source code that would be considered a security risk to users, such as a “phone home” component or something that builds up a profile of the user?

Ludde: Not at all, uTorrent has an optional feature (enabled by default) that sends a unique random ID number when checking for new updates. This is used solely for the purpose of computing how many users that are actively using uTorrent. Azureus does the same thing, so it’s nothing special really. A lot of internet-enabled programs do this without even telling the user. With uTorrent you have the option to turn it off if it’s of concern to you.

Alex H: uTorrent is free, but donations are accepted. What other kinds of work have you done to make ends meet? Is there anyone you would refuse to work for?

Ludde: Working with an Anti-P2P company is certainly not a good idea, considering my interests in making the best BitTorrent client. I would not do that. Apart from that, I don’t know. I will have to evaluate any possible offers and see if they match with what I think is fair and makes sense.

Alex H: I asked a similar question to this in our previous interview: How do you see BitTorrent developing over say, the next three years?

Ludde: This is a very hard question to answer. I definitely believe P2P is here to stay. I think ISPs will get a bigger role and start developing solutions to help P2P instead of working against it, for example cache mechanisms. I like the new law in France that legalizes P2P, and I hope that more countries will follow.

I think we’ll start seeing BitTorrent more in embedded devices, such as set-top boxes. More services will be developed around BitTorrent to distribute legal content, and subscription based services such as high quality movies-on-demand instead of renting DVDs in the rental store.

Alex H: Thanks for your time, and good luck for the future.

Ludde: Thanks.



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