BitTorrent Live: streaming video that gets easier to serve as more people watch it

Streaming video is one of the holy grails of torrent-style distribution systems, where everyone who requests a file from a server is directed to other downloaders who have already received pieces. This is a highly scalable architecture, since it means that the more people trying to download at once, the faster everyone's download becomes. But because the pieces arrive out of sequence, you have to wait until the file has been completely transferred before you can use it.

Now, BitTorrent has introduced a new "Live" service that is designed to allow for ready streaming of videos using the same underlying principle. This has enormous potential for disruption, as it lowers the barriers to entry for running your own YouTube-style service by several orders of magnitude. It's still a bit techy and hard-to-use, but that's only to be expected this early into the release cycle.

One of the goals of BitTorrent Live is to make it possible for the public to send video to thousands of people, all over the world. From dissidents reporting on uprisings to soccer moms who want to send video of a game to family and friends, everyone is included.

The main upside compared to centralized live streaming services is that BitTorrent Live won’t shut down or be interrupted when the audience becomes ‘too large’.

“Current offerings fail with large audiences but with BitTorrent Live every viewer that joins a swarm extends its reach by sharing pieces of the video to other viewers. It becomes more robust with larger audiences and there are no costs associated with the addition of users,” Knoll told us.

“We’re aiming for this to be a democratization of streaming technology,” he adds.

Viewing live streams requires people to install the BitTorrent Live app, which is used to share video with others who are watching. The install process is pretty straightforward and the streams we were able to check out worked fine.

BitTorrent Premieres New Live Streaming Platform [Ernesto/TorrentFreak]


  1. I’ve been waiting for this. YouTube’s usefulness has been hugely diminished by the copyright police and crappy unskippable advertising. A decentralized streaming video site would be amazing.

    1) Create decentralized takedown-resistant streaming video site
    2) Mirror all of YouTube’s video
    3) Profit Enjoy the social disruption caused by democratizing streaming

  2. Welcome to 4 years ago.  This has been built into to most torrent clients for years now.  Bittorent is usually the last to catch up with the technology they created.  I’ve been streaming NFL games this way for the past two years. 

  3. Okay, I’m obviously not very knowledgeable in this area: I always thought that livestreams were broad- or multicasts, and that the video only has to leave the host computer once and will be duplicated at every router on the internet that has recipients at the end of more than one route.
    … is that wrong? Is there a limit to how many people you can reach this way? Are the headers of multicast packets so large that they are a problem?

    Anyway, this is in fact good news. The problem is of course that you’d still need enough upstream bandwidth to send the video at least as fast at it is running. Meaning, most people won’t be able to do this using their connection at home, unless the video is very small. Although it may be a very cool thing for people with small websites on small servers with not much bandwidth. (Did I at least get this right?)

    1. there are, to my knowledge, no streaming sites that use broadcast or multicast…largely because there are few routers capable to receiving multicast or multicasting. same for broadcast.
      instead you make a connection to say youtube and it opens a TCP socket to a streaming location and downloads it. youtube downloads only a portion of it at a time but basically with any streaming site the player downloads some chunk or all of it and plays that, so long as the transfer rate is >= the playback rate all is good.

  4. Still don’t know why NPR doesn’t do something like this for its podcasts. I actually emailed one of the producers about it and they gave me some reason for not doing it (which was silly). Sure would cut down on bandwidth costs and all those pledge drives.

  5. Yeah, go try it first before praising it. The software is indeed a ways of from being usable. Requires ports being opened on routers and firewalls that ISP’s will hit the panic button on almost instantly. 

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