Torrents are a great way to download large files from the web. Here's our pick of the best macOS apps you'll need to get the job done
There are lots of different macOS clients for downloading torrents, and new software comes out every year. But what's the best Mac torrent software for you? Which has the best features, and which is easiest to use?
Torrent clients enable you to download torrent files or use torrent magnet links. Each is used to download and share files over the internet; and each Mac BitTorrent client offers something different. A good BitTorrent program should be easy to use, reliable, and quickly download files from other computer users. Large or obscure files can take a long time to download, so a good client should also be unobtrusive, sitting in the background and quietly pulling down your files while you continue to work.
What are torrents?
Torrents are small files that you can download and open in a torrent client. The torrent client then downloads a larger file from the internet using a process known as BitTorrent. BitTorrent enables people to share large files with each other using a peer-to-peer network, which means they share parts of the file with each other, rather than downloading the whole file from a central location (such as iTunes).
You download a small file, called a torrent, and this enables you to connect to other computers with the same file and download parts of it from each other. These parts are then shared until you have the whole of the file, at which point you can continue sharing the file (known as seeding).
One person has to seed the whole of the file in the first place for other to share it. BitTorrent is an efficient way to share large files across multiple computers. It has something of a bad reputation because of its association with file-sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, but the technology is often used to share less controversial large files, such as software updates, Linux installation distributions, and open-source or copyright-free programs, movies, music and other large files.
To download a torrent you must download first a torrent client. This accepts the file and logs on to peer-to-peer networks to hunt for other people sharing the file. Once it's found them it will begin downloading the file.
Are torrents legal?
Torrents and BitTorrent technology are, themselves, completely legal. However, many people use torrent technology to download files from popular filesharing sites like The Pirate Bay.
Many of the files shared, such as the latest movies or television shows, may be subject to copyright laws, and downloading them is generally subject to copyright law in most countries. Film and music companies have been known to monitor torrent activity and bring court cases against individuals it suspects of copyright infringement.
What are torrent magnet links?
A magnet link is another way of using BitTorrent to download large files, but you don't even need to download the torrent file. Instead, you click on a magnet link in a website, and your default torrent app will automatically start downloading the whole file using BitTorrent. Magnet links contain a hash code that is unique for each different file. All modern BitTorrent apps also support magnet links.
Free, Pro $19.95
The official BitTorrent client is a great place to start as it has all the tools you need for downloading torrents. The app imposes no limits on data size or the number of files you download, plus its bandwidth booster does a good job of keeping things ticking along nicely in the background without eating up system resources.
It also has the option of allowing users to log on to the BitTorrent Remote site (after you've created a free account) and control all of the downloads on your Mac via the web. So you can leave your computer running at home, then monitor it all from work or a coffee shop via your iPhone.
BitTorrent does include ads as a way to pay for the app, but if you want to get rid of them there is a Pro tier which costs £16/$19.95 and brings with it the additional benefits of anti-virus software, previews for files that are downloading, file conversion, and a HD media player.
qBittorrent is a relatively obscure program, so there's a good chance you haven't heard of it. However, we have swiftly become fans. It's simple to operate, easy on the eyes and perfectly functional. We found it used little background processing and bereft of adverts and spam.
The interface is a bit clunky compared to the likes of Transmission, and despite being new, it looks like an app from an old version of Mac OS X.
However, it has a very nice combination of features and ease of use. While other torrent programs are often either too simplistic or overtly complicated, qBittorrent strikes the middle ground confidently. It's easy to download single or multiple files, and to choose files from within a single torrent.
Of all the apps here, Transmission is the most Mac-like, with a gorgeous interface and Apple-like simplicity - not that Apple would ever make a BitTorrent app; it won't even allow them on the App Store.
Transmission is an extremely light BitTorrent client with a good range of features. It needs very little configuration and is designed to be as minimalist as possible, so files just open in a small window displaying a single upload bar. You can get more information on files but this opens in a separate window.
There was a controversy a while back, when hackers managed to infect a release of Transmission with malware, but the company moved quickly to replace that version with one that removed the offending software and have remained vigilant ever since.
We think Transmission takes the simplicity thing a little too far, and qBittorrent offers a wider range of features (such as in-app search). But if you very rarely download torrents, but want a torrent client just in case, this is a good choice.