How to torrent on your Android phone

There is very little you can do on a full desktop PC these days that you can’t also do on that miracle of modern technology that lives in your pocket. And unlike the ubiquitous iPhone, Android is a very open platform. 

Not only can you P2P torrent on an Android phone, but doing so is very easy. 

If you are familiar with how to torrent in Windows or macOS then you can probably just jump straight in on your phone. If not, then do the following…

How to torrent in Android

 1. Download a BitTorrent app onto your phone.

2. Install an Android VPN app onto your phone and run it whenever doing anything torrent-related. Strictly speaking, this step is optional. But it is highly recommended. We explain why in a later in this article.

3. Visit a torrent site and search for the content you want. Many VPN apps allow you to search for torrents within the app. This is convenient, but we recommend visiting torrent websites instead. 

This is because popular torrent websites often have active communities who rate and comment on the quality of torrents. This helps to screen torrents for malware, alert you to any other problems with the files, or, conversely, to let you which know files are good. 

Websites also usually provide a wealth of details about hosted files, such as rip quality and format, IMDB scores for movies, instructions on how to apply patches, and suchlike.

If you find that torrent sites are blocked by your internet provider then use a VPN to access them.

4. Once you have found a torrent file you like, click on its Magnet link or download its .torrent file. 

 

Your BitTorrent app should then open and automatically start downloading the files. 

 

(If you downloaded a .torrent file then you might need to perform the extra step of manually selecting the downloaded file before it will open in your torrent app).

And that’s it! Just wait for the torrent to finish downloading and you can use it. We offer some advice on how to open/run/use/watch/read various kinds of downloaded files in Android later in this article.

Android Torrent Apps

There are a large number of torrent apps for Android, most of which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Most apps in the Play Store, however, are proprietary closed source apps that either support their developers with paid-for Pro versions of the app and/or deliver in-app ads.

As always, we prefer to recommend only free and open-source (FOSS) options. In our view, these are just as good as their commercial rivals, but thanks to being open source, are much more trustworthy. And 100% free with no ads, of course.

Unblock Apps in the App Store

Unblock Apps blocked in your location by using a VPN service. To find out more information check out our guide on how to how to change your Google Play region.

Transmission BTC

Transmission started life as a Mac and Linux-only BitTorrent client, where it built up a formidable reputation. Fully FOSS, the Android app sports a wealth of advanced features that are more often found only in desktop torrent clients. 

These include multiple watch/download directories, keep CPU/WiFi awake to complete all downloads before the device goes to sleep, peer exchange, DHT, µTP, UPnP and NAT-PMP port forwarding, webseed support, tracker editing, global and per-torrent speed limits, and more.

Features we particularly like are download over WiFi only (great for saving mobile data allowances) and the ability to stream movies directly to your favorite Android media (e.g. VLV) was you download. As such, Transmission BLC for Android can act very much like Popcorn Time (see later).

The only issue we have found is that it can take a few minutes for Transmission to allocate file space before it downloads large files.

Transmission BTC is available from the Play Store

BiglyBT

Vuze on the desktop is a granddaddy of BitTorrent clients that creaks somewhat under the weight of its myriad features and is no longer open source. The Android version is much leaner but serves up ads unless you stump up 4 bucks for the Pro version.

Some of Vuze’s original developers, however, have taken its original open-source code and developed BiglyBT, a fully-featured modern FOSS torrent client. Which also comes as an Android app. Yay!

Bigly.BT for Android features Swarm Merging for faster torrent downloading and to repair torrents without seeds, torrent management, per-torrent sped management, RSS subscription,  DHT, Vuze DHT, UPnP, uTP, PEX, UDP Tracker, Encryption, and more. 

You can even use it to remote-mange other BiglyBT, Vuze, and Transmission RPC-compatible desktop torrent clients.

BiglyBT is available from the Play Store and F-Droid.

LibreTorrent

Another well-designed FOSS torrent app, LibreTorent allows to the ability to fine-tune network settings, power management, battery control, UI settings, and more. It supports all the usual DHT, PeX, encryption, LSD, UPnP, NAT-PMP, µTP standards, plus allows detailed file and folder management.

 Much like the similar feature in Transmission, LibreTorrent’s sequential download options allows you to watch videos while they are downloading.  

LibreTorrent is available from the Play Store and F-Droid.

Popcorn Time

Popcorn Time is not a standard torrent app. It instead uses the BitTorrent protocol to deliver a slick Netflix-like experience to your phone. As we have seen, other torrent apps can now stream video torrents as they download. 

But Popcorn Time remains top of the game thanks to its intuitive interface, large selection of high-quality up-do-date titles availed in-app, and silky-smooth streaming under most conditions.

For those who don’t like watching shows and movies on their small screen, Popcorn Time can Cast content to a home cinema setup via Chromecast, AirPlay or DLNA.

Due to the highly “unofficial” nature of the content available via the app, Popcorn Time is not available from the Play Store. Its .apk file must be downloaded from its reputable developer’s websites. 

Note that there are a number of bogus versions of Popcorn Time out there which ask for money or install malware on your phone. Only download the proper FOSS versions from either Popcorn Time.to or Popcorn Time.sh.

Common Problems

To be honest, torrenting on your Android phone is so easy that you are unlikely to run into many problems. Here are some of the common ones that you might:

Can’t access torrent websites

Solution: Use a VPN. If you can access the internet in general but not torrent sites, then your internet provider is blocking them. This problem is easily fixed by running a VPN app.

Torrent downloads are slow

The speed of torrent downloads is mainly determined by two things: 1) How fast your internet connection is, and 2) how many other people are sharing (seeding) the file you want to download. 

Other than upgrading your internet subscription plan, there is only so much you can do about a slow WiFi connection.

It might be possible to improve mobile internet speeds by changing physical location (for example from a HST+ area to one with 4G coverage) but always be aware of your mobile data limits (see later). 

You can address the second issue to some extent by trying to only download files with a high number of seeders. Most torrent sites will show you how many seeders each torrent has for exactly this purpose. Sometimes the ratio of downloaders to seeders is expressed as a “health bar.” Torrents with a green health bar should download faster.

Another option is just to pick smaller files, which will download faster. Do you really need that 6 GB Blu-ray DTS+ rip for watching a video on your phone on the train to work? A 500Mb 720p Web rip would probably do just as well, and will download a hell of a lot faster!

I’ve run out of my mobile data allowance!

High-quality video and audio files can be large, as can even some Android games. You might, therefore, like to consider only downloading such files over a WiFi connection in order to save you mobile data allowance.

If this is not possible for some reason then see the above advice for picking lower quality content instead. A 192k MP3 audio file is high enough quality to keep most people happy, for example and is a lot smaller than a FLAC or WAV file. Unless you are a serious audiophile, you are unlikely to even notice the difference!

Torrenting is draining my battery

Torrenting on an Android phone requires maintaining an active internet connection. This will take its toll on your battery over time. 

There is only so much you can do about this, but you might want to restrict your torrenting only to times when your phone is connected to a mains power supply. Such as when you go to bed at night.

Can’t open the downloaded files

Torrented files, especially video files, often use standards that are not supported my mainstream applications. See the Android Torrenting Toolkit below for ideas here.

Received a nasty letter from your ISP

Or even worse, a demand for money from a copyright holder! Most ISPs cooperate with copyright holders to tackle piracy, and with the BitTorrent protocol it is ridiculously easy to catch offenders. 

Torrenting is also called filesharing for a reason, and everyone you share files with can see the unique internet address (IP address) assigned to you by your ISP. 

Copyright holders often monitor downloads of their intellectual property and record the IP addresses of anyone who does so without permission.  They then complain to the ISPs those IP addresses belong to.

If you are lucky, your ISP will just send you a warning not to do it again. If you are unlucky then it may hand over your personal details to the copyright holder, who may choose to take legal action against you.

You can stop this from ever happening (or happening again) by using a VPN…

Why you should a VPN when torrenting

The clue to answering this is in the synonyms for “torrenting”: P2P (peer-to-peer) and filesharing. Instead of being stored on a centralized server from which you download files, torrented files are shared among many of other torrent users. Popular files can be shared among hundreds of users.

So when you “download” (which is something of a misnomer when it comes to torrenting) a file using the BitTorrent protocol, what you actually doing is sharing small pieces of it with everyone else who is downloading that same file. A file is “downloaded” once you have all the pieces needed to reassemble that file.

In many ways this setup is great as it provides a decentralized way to share content.   The flipside, though, is that sharing files with a bunch of other random “downloaders” on the internet is hardly private!

Using the right software (which includes many popular desktop BitTorrent clients), it is very easy to see the IP addresses of every other person also sharing (“downloading”) the same file.

How does a torrent VPN protect you when torrenting?

If you are not familiar with what a VPN is, then you might like to check out our VPNs for Beginners guide. The short version with regard to torrenting is that a VPN will protect you in two ways:

  1. A VPN hides your real IP address. All other downloaders (people sharing the same file as you) will see is the IP address of the VPN server. As long as you choose a VPN provider that permits P2P torrenting, you can trust it to protect your real identity.
  2. Your ISP cannot see what you are downloading because the connection between your computer and the VPN server is securely encrypted.

Below we can see what iknowwhatyoudownload.com looks like when using a VPN. All those downloads are associated with the address of the VPN server I’m using - not my real address.

 

Some ISPs throttle P2P traffic. When they detect that the BitTorrent protocol is being used, they reduce your bandwidth. They may even do this for legal torrents on the assumption they are illegal. Using a VPN will prevent this because it hides the fact that you are using BitTorrent

Kill switch

P2P downloading large files takes time, and you are unlikely to be actively monitoring your connection throughout. If the VPN connection drops during this time then your real IP will be exposed.

Most desktop VPN clients now feature a kill switch which prevents all internet connections when the VPN is not running. Most Android VPN apps, though, don’t.

Fortunately, newer versions of Android (Nougat 7+) include a built-in kill switch that works with any VPN app. This includes Android’s built-in PPTP/L2TP app, OpenVPN for Android, and custom apps. 

Alternatively, the OpenVPN for Android app can be configured to act as a kill switch in any version of Android. 

 For detailed instructions on using either method to create a VPN kill switch in Android, please see How to install a VPN on your Android phone.

Seeding torrents in Android

It is usually considered good netiquette to seed downloaded torrent files. After all, if nobody seeds then no-one can download stuff! On an Android device, though, there are a couple of additional considerations: battery and mobile data plan.

As already discussed, actively downloading and seeding torrents requires constant use of your data connection, which will drain battery life and your mobile data. In addition to this, seeding large files will quickly blam its way through most mobile data allowances.

You should, therefore, consider seeding only over WiFi and when connected to a mains power outlet. Another option if you also torrent on a desktop computer is to not seed on your Android device at all.

Instead, but be a good a netizen by seeding your desktop downloads to a higher ratio than you might otherwise do. This will compensate for the fact that you are not seeding your Android downloads.

The Android Torrenter’s Toolkit

1. A torrent app. Duh!

2. A VPN app. Check out 5 Best VPNs for Android and 5 Best VPNs for Torrenting for some great recommendations.  Remember to set up a kill switch.

3. Antivirus software. Strong torrent site communities can help identify files that contain malware, but some always slip through. Most respected mobile anti-malware apps will provide a reasonable level of protection, but we are fans of Malwarebytes

4. VLC. A solid favorite among desktop downloaders for years, the open-source VLC app for Android will play literally any media file you throw at it. It is also very fully featured, and now includes Chromecast support for watching movies downloaded to your Android device on a big screen. And it’s free! 

 

5. A file manager. This allows you access, open, and move downloaded files.

This is a good chance your device manufacture bundled one of these with your phone, but if you prefer something more fully featured and/or open-source then OI File Manager is a good FOSS option, available through F-Droid. 

 

Tip. To install torrented Android apps you will first need to enable sideloading in Android by going to Settings -> Lock screen and security -> Install Unknown Apps/Allow Unknown Sources. You can then install the app by clicking on its downloaded .apk file in your file manager. 

Most “unofficial” apps, however, will fail to authenticate with Google’s servers and crash when you open them. Most torrented apps also come with a folder labeled com.name1.name2. 

Depending on where your default file storage is set to, use the file manager to copy this folder to either the SD Card -> Android -> OBB or Internal Memory -> Android > OBB. You should then be able to run the app.

6. Book Reader (Play Sore or F-Droid).  This FOSS book reader supports all common eBook standards, including cbz and cbr e-comic formats.

Final thoughts

Torrenting in Android is basically no different to torrenting on your desktop. The only real issues to watch out for are mobile-specific things like limited data allowances and battery brain caused by continuously downloading over a period of time. As always, of course, you really should use a VPN.

 

Written by: Douglas Crawford

Has worked for almost six years as senior staff writer and resident tech and VPN industry expert at ProPrivacy.com. Widely quoted on issues relating cybersecurity and digital privacy in the UK national press (The Independent & Daily Mail Online) and international technology publications such as Ars Technica.

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