CS Papers - BitTorrent

18 January 2012 - Lisbon

1 Introduction

Original paper is here.
As you know BitTorrent is Peer-to-Peer file sharing protocol.

2 Technical Framework

2.1 Publishing Content

The .torrent file contains information about the file, its length, name, hashing information and url of a tracker. Trackers are responsible for helping downloaders to find each other. A downloader sends information about what file it is downloading, what port it’s listening on, and tracker responds with a list of contact information for peers which are downloading the same file. Downloaders use this information to find and connect to each other. To make a file available, a ‘downloader’ which happens to have the complete file, known as seed, must be started.

2.2 Peer Distribution

The tracker’s responsibilities are strictly limited to helping peers to find each other. All logistical problems of file downloading are handled in the interactions between peers. In order to keep track of which peers have what, BitTorrent cuts files into pieces of fixed size. Each downloader reports to all of its peers what pieces it has. To verify data integrity, SHA1 hashes of all pieces are included in the .torrent file, and peers don’t report that they have a piece until they’ve checked the hash. Peers continuously download pieces from all peers which they can.

2.3 Pipelining

BitTorrent facilitates the pipelining by breaking pieces further into sub-pieces over the wire, typically sixteen kilobytes in size, and always keeping some number, typically five, requests pipelined at once. This will avoid a delay between pieces being sent, which is disastrous for transfer rates. The number for pipelining can be selected as a value that will reliably saturate most connections.

2.4 Piece Selection

Selecting pieces to download in a good order is very important for good performance.

2.4.1 Strict Priority

BitTorrent’s first policy for piece selection is that once a single sub-piece has been requested, the remaining sub-pieces from that particular piece are requested before sub-pieces from any other piece. This will be good for getting complete pieces as quickly as possible.

2.4.2 Rarest First

When selecting which piece to start downloading next, peers generally download pieces which the fewest of their own peers have first, a technique referred as “rarest first”. This technique does a good job of making sure that peers have pieces which all of their peers want, so uploading can be done when wanted. It also makes sure that pieces which are more common are left for later, so the likelihood that a peer which currently is offering upload will later not have anything of interest is reduced.

2.4.3 Random First Piece

An exception to rarest first is when downloading starts. At that time, the peer has nothing to upload, so it’s important to get a complete piece as quickly as possible. Rare pieces are generally present on one peer, so they would be downloaded slower than pieces which are present on multiple peers for which it is possible to download sub-pieces from different places. Until the first complete piece is assembled, pieces to download are selected at random and then strategy changes to rarest first.

2.4.4 Endgame Mode

Closer to the end of download, a peer with very slow transfer rates may delay download’s finish. To keep that from happening, once all sub-pieces which peer doesn’t have are actively being requested it sends requests for all sub-pieces to all peers. Cancels are sent for sub-pieces which arrive to keep to much bandwidth from being wasted on redundant sends.

3 Choking Algorithms

To cooperate peers upload, and to not cooperate they ‘choke’ peers. Choking is a temporary refusal to upload; it stops uploading but downloading can still happen and the connection doesn’t need to be renegotiated when choking stops.
A good choking algorithm should utilize all available resources, provide reasonably consistent download rates for everyone, and be somewhat resistant to peers only downloading and not uploading.

3.2 BitTorrent’s Choking Algortihm

Each BitTorrent peer always unchokes a fixed number of other peers (default is four), so the issue becomes which peers to unchoke. Decisions as to which peers to unchoke are based strictly on current download rate. Calculating current download rate meaningfully is a surprisingly difficult problem; the current implementation essentially uses a rolling 20-second average. BitTorrent peers recalculate who they want to choke once every ten seconds, and then leave the situation as is until the next ten seconds period is up.

3.3 Optimistic Unchoking

Simply uploading to the peers which provide the best download rate would suffer from having no method of discovering if currently unused connections are better than the ones being used. To fix this, at all times a BitTorrent peer has a single ‘optimistic unchoke’ which is unchoked regardless of the current download rate from it. Which peer is the optimistic unchoke is rotated every third rechoke period (30 seconds).

3.4 Anti-snubbing

Occasionally a BitTorrent peer will be choked by all peers which it was formerly downloading from. In such cases it will usually continue to get poor download rates until the optimistic unchoke finds better peers. Therefore, if over a minute goes by without getting a single piece from a particular peer, BitTorrent assumes it is ‘snubbed’ by that peer and doesn’t upload to it except as an optimistic unchoke.

3.5 Upload Only

Once a peer is done downloading, it no longer has useful download rates to decide which peers to upload to. The current implementation then switches to preferring peers which it has better upload rates to, which does a decent job of utilizing all available upload capacity and preferring peers which no one else happens to be uploading to at the moment.