BitTorrent Trackers Cease Strike After Protocol Improvement

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Two weeks ago OpenBitTorrent and PublicBitTorrent, the two largest BitTorrent trackers on the Internet, went on strike. The trackers protested BitTorrent Inc.'s unresponsiveness to a protocol improvement proposed by Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij. Soon after the news broke the BitTorrent developer team sprung into action to address the issue, and as a result the tracker operators have confirmed to TorrentFreak that they will restart their services within a week.

OpenBitTorrent (OBT) and PublicBitTorrent (PBT) are two non-profit BitTorrent trackers running on the beerware licensed Opentracker software.

Neither tracker hosts torrent files, but they do coordinate the downloads of millions of BitTorrent users every day.

Considering the high volume of requests the two trackers have to deal with, one can presume that they have pretty significant bills to pay at the end of each month. Both OBT and PBT therefore abandoned TCP support last year and became UDP-only trackers.

However, since many users kept adding HTTP addresses to their torrents, and because many old torrents also still list these, both trackers became overloaded with resource intensive HTTP requests.

To address this issue, Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij submitted an official proposal to the developer forum which is operated by uTorrent’s parent company BitTorrent Inc. His solution was to create special DNS entries where tracker owners can specify what traffic they allow and what not.

The operators of OBT and PBT welcomed this request, but weeks went by without even a single comment on the proposal. In protest, the two largest BitTorrent trackers decided to strike and go offline.

TorrentFreak covered the news two weeks ago, and within days BitTorrent’s developers implemented a fix. The latest Beta release of uTorrent now checks whether a tracker has UDP support before it tries to connect to the HTTP address, easing the load on trackers.

Meanwhile, several prominent people in the BitTorrent community such as EZTV’s Novaking and FrostWire’s Gubatron joined the discussion. And not without result.

This week the proposal was turned into an official BitTorrent protocol enhancement draft, listing Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij and BitTorrent’s Arvid Norberg and Chris Brown as authors. In the upcoming 3.3 Alpha release of uTorrent the new functionality will be enabled by default.

BitTorrent Enhancement Proposal #34

The operators of OBT and PBT have been following the progress and confirmed to TorrentFreak that they will bring the trackers back online in the coming week.

OpenBitTorrent’s owner applauds the developers for coming up with a quick fix, despite the slow start.

“This is going to save us a considerable amount of money and will benefit the BitTorrent community in the long run. It’s a great step forward and guarantees the survival of open BitTorrent trackers,” he said.

The protocol improvement, which will be implemented in the upcoming uTorrent release, also gives web admins the ability to prevent their sites being hammered by BitTorrent traffic. Whether it’s from malicious attacks or people who mistakenly add the URL of a BitTorrent index in the tracker list of a torrent, both types of traffic can be quickly blocked.

One of the downsides of the protocol enhancement is that it also allows Internet providers to block BitTorrent trackers through DNS records. However, this is not really a “threat” as ISPs who want to block traffic to BitTorrent trackers already have plenty of means to do so.

Overall, the impact of the changes will be positive for the BitTorrent community at large, not least due to OBT and PBT becoming accessible to BitTorrent users again. This will reboot torrents that stopped working and speed up those that were running on DHT only.

Besides uTorrent/BitTorrent, Frostwire also confirmed that they will implement the new proposal and it will be no surprise if other clients follow suit.


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