It's a question that doesn't have a definitive answer. Some clients are written for specific operating systems, some are cross-platform. At least one runs on Java. There are also clients geared toward more advanced users that would surely make a newbie's head spin.
One thing is for certain: The client defines the BitTorrent experience for the user, so regardless of knowledge or skill level, each user must find a client that suits his or her needs best.
Last week, we reviewed the most popular BitTorrent clients on the Monkey Bites blog. We have concentrated on free clients, and we narrowed our search to clients built exclusively for BitTorrent. Some stellar products have integrated BitTorrent functionality, such as the Opera web browser, but we wanted to review the best stand-alone clients.
The result is our list of the five best choices for sharing.
BitTorrent (official client)
BitTorrent, also known as the "Mainline" client, is developed and distributed by the company of the same name. It was written in python by Bram Cohen, who invented and developed the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol. Because it truly is "official," all the optimizations and updates to the original BitTorrent code will be reflected in the official client first.
Good: It's cross-platform, with builds for Windows, Mac OS X, Unix and Linux. Bandwidth management, queuing and network optimization features are all excellent and easy to use. An integrated torrent search field pulls results from the engine hosted at BitTorrent.com.
Bad: The official BitTorrent client stops at the basic feature set. No plug-in support, no advanced file management within torrents, no pretty 3-D visualizations, no remote control through the browser.
Overall: Best bet for new users or power users looking for that Zen approach. Read the full review.
Wired News rating:
If you're looking for a slew of features -- and really, I mean a ton of features -- then Azureus is for you. I often call Azureus the "kitchen sink" of BitTorrent clients. It supports plug-ins, so what it doesn't have can be slapped on after the fact. It's built in Java, which hurts the user experience and brings up some compatibility issues, but it also means that Azureus can run on any platform where Java can be installed.
Good: Java means cross-platform; Azureus runs anywhere. Built-in features include advanced bandwidth management, an embedded tracker, management of files within torrents, support for trackerless torrents and a connection optimizer that can traverse firewalls with ease. Support for plug-ins. In a word, powerful.
Bad: Java. You need to have the latest JRE installed in order for Azureus to operate correctly. The sluggishness problem becomes a nightmare under heavy traffic loads. Also, Azureus is so piled with standard features that new users may not know where to begin.
Overall: Bloat and the Java requirement are downers, but is there anything Azureus can't do? Read the full review.
Wired News rating:
The µ is for micro, and "microTorrent" is a very, very tiny BitTorrent client. The entire application is 170 KB, and it packs enough features into that small package to compete with beefier applications like Azureus. The memory footprint is also ridiculously small. Even so, the client is responsive, fast and can handle a large workload without choking.
Good: µTorrent has extensive bandwidth-management tools, support for UPnP and trackerless torrents, and users can limit downloads to specific files within torrents. µTorrent also has support for multiple trackers, so you can download the same torrent from two or more trackers at once. Torrents can be launched directly from the built-in RSS reader. And it looks nice, too. The user interface is uncluttered and skinnable.
Bad: Windows only. That's really the only thing µTorrent has working against it.
Overall: The best weight-to-performance ratio in the business ... if you're a Windows user. Read the full review.
Wired News rating:
It may not be the prettiest client that we reviewed -- in fact, BitComet may very well be the ugliest -- but it works exceptionally well, and its automated set-up options make it a great place for new users to start. It has all the standard features one would expect in a BitTorrent client, plus some fresh twists that set it apart.
Good: BitComet has some stand-out innovative features: Videos files can be previewed while they're still being downloaded, and there's a built-in chat tool that lets users chat with other peers in the swarm. Auto-configuration tools for optimizing bandwidth, disk usage and network connections are plusses for new users. An integrated Internet Explorer browser makes searching for torrents very easy. BitComet's memory usage and CPU requirements are incredibly low.
Bad: BitComet only runs in Windows. It's also lacking fancy visualization tools for share traffic and transfer progress. Finally, BitComet has come under fire for favoring other BitComet peers within swarms, not recognizing the "private" flag and ignoring piece requests from other peers. The private flag recognition has reportedly been fixed, but the rest of these problems continue to cause concern among BitTorrent users and other client developers.
Overall: Feature-rich and stable, but not at all elegant. BitComet also loses points for lacking cross-platform support. It's another good choice for new users, though. Read the full review.
Wired News rating:
Bits on Wheels
It runs on Mac OS X only, and it's still young, so it's not for everyone, but Bits on Wheels exhibits most of the features beloved by Azureus users and it doesn't totally hose your computer's resources once the torrents start to pile up. In fact, Bits on Wheels has been my primary client for a while now, and I routinely use it share a dozen or so torrents without seeing even the slightest hiccup on my machine.
Good: The performance is unmatched on the Mac, even under heavy workloads. Bits on Wheels offers advanced stats for each download in a clean, tabbed interface, but the real eye candy is the ultra-cool 3-D swarm-visualization tool that shows torrent pieces flying between the peers. Trippy.
Bad: It only runs on the Mac. Also, Bits on Wheels is missing some advanced features like auto-stop, network/firewall management, integrated search and management of individual files within torrents. Development of Bits on Wheels appears to have stalled almost a year ago -- there hasn't been a new version since November 2005.
Overall: Bits on Wheels is stable and incredibly efficient, but it still has a way to go before it's an A-list client ... if it ever gets there. Read the full review.Wired News rating: