There are more BitTorrent clients than we could possibly compare, but some of the most popular—and best—have been under the spotlight lately for sleazy ads and bad behavior. It’s time to check in on a few of our favorites to see how they fare, which deserves your downloads, and which you can trust.

The Contenders

The world of BitTorrent clients is vast and infinite, but of the most popular apps out there capable of downloading torrents, scheduling downloads, remotely managing those downloads, and more, three apps stand out pretty clearly:

µTorrent (Windows/Mac/Linux): µTorrent has, for the longest time, been your favorite BitTorrent client. It’s cross-platform, free, easy to use, and is packed with useful features. Like any good torrenting client, it can resume stopped downloads, merge trackers, download items in sequential order, supports encrypted files, and lets you manage downloads remotely via mobile apps. It can schedule downloads, supports port forwarding, and it can even throttle itself depending on your overall bandwidth usage. Plus, it’s cross-platform and is simple to use whether you need the advanced features or not.

qBittorrent (Windows/Mac/Linux): Free, open-source, and designed to pick up the community that µTorrent left behind, qBittorrent has garnered a huge following for being slim, trim, and super fast without skimping on the features that matter. Its interface may look sparse, but under the hood you’ll find just about everything you need, whether you’re heavy or a light downloader. IP filtering, sequential downloads, built-in search, encrypted downloads, web-based remote control, port forwarding, it’s all there. It, too, is cross-platform, and works flawlessly on just about every system you throw it at.
Transmission (Windows/Mac/Linux): Transmission is in this roundup for an unfortunate reason (more on that later), but also because we’ve often recommended it in the past—and for good reason. It’s lightweight, and for the longest time was the best torrenting app available for the Mac. It’s since gone cross-platform, with variants both first-party and third-party available for macOS, Linux, and even Windows. Like our other contenders, it supports encryption, sharing your own files, IP filtering, download scheduling, and remote management. Unlike some of our others here though, it has a killer headless mode ideals for NAS devices, home servers, HTPCs, and even Raspberry Pis, and it’s customizable to completely automate your downloads. It’s been through some rough patches as of late, but it’s still a strong contender.

These particular clients are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re some of the most popular, but others, like Deluge (Win/Mac/Linux) and Vuze (Win/Mac/Linux) are also great contenders. We just couldn’t possibly compare them all in a showdown like this. Maybe we’ll pit them against the winner here, or against each other in the future showdown if there’s interest. The bottom line here though is that there are plenty of options, even if you don’t these three—and there are even more options out there if you don’t like any of the ones we’ve mentioned so far.

Let’s get this out of the way right out of the gate. Transmission is in this roundup because it’s been—for the second time now—caught distributing malware. This isn’t of its own design or choosing of course—in both cases its more likely that malicious actors injected the malware into Transmission install .DMGs and then uploaded them to Transmission’s own servers, masquerading as legitimate copies of the program for users to download and install. Back in March, the issue was that the installer came bundled with ransomware, and just this week, malware designed to steal a Mac’s keychain and give itself a backdoor made its way into Transmission installers. In both cases, the developers behind the Transmission project acted quickly to remove any malicious downloads, but, well, it’s not a good look (and a good reminder to check hashes to make sure files you download are what the owner promises they’ll be.

Over on the µTorrent side of things, more than a few people (and private trackers) abandoned the software when they started introducing sleazy banner ads and then bundling adware and crapware with their installer (which, to this day, you still have to manually deselect, or else you’ll get crap like the “Spigot Toolbar” and custom search apps and widgets in both Firefox and Chrome.) Then came the “premium” versions of µTorrent available without the crapware, and that little matter of a version that came with a Bitcoin miner bundled along with. Put all of this together and you have a client that’s steadily eroded the trust of its users. A little over a year ago, when we asked you for your favorite BitTorrent clients, you definitely mentioned µTorrent, but it came with a ton of caveats, and many of you saying you’d never use a version beyond 2.2.1 (and, to be fair, many of you pointing out that it’s easy to disable the ads, and easier to click “decline” when you install it.)

Of course, malware that will backdoor your machine and steal your passwords or ransomware are both way more serious than adware that just sticks around, makes money off of you, and makes itself annoying—but both underscore a problem with torrent clients, especially the popular ones: They’re either easy targets to get to the myriad computers running them, or they demand tons of time and resources with very little return on that investment, so they desperately try to monetize. In either case, it’s important to be informed of the security and privacy implications of their use, and the historical issues they both have—especially considering they’re two of the most popular clients in wide use.

Even though qBittorrent was designed to be an alternative to µTorrent specifically, it’s not just a clone. qBittorrent stands on its own, with features like email for completed downloads, web-based remote management (ideal for HTPCs or home servers), built-in search so you don’t have to deal with seedy (and often changing or closing) public trackers, IP filtering for privacy, port forwarding so you don’t have to use the defaults, bandwidth scheduling so you’re not downloading while you’re also trying to game or stream movies or music, and even a torrent creation tool so you can share your own large files using the technology if you want to.

f course, while qBittorrent is fast, lightweight, and cross-platform, it shines on some platforms more than others (more on that in a moment.) It compares well with µTorrent, since that’s what it was designed to replace, but qBittorrent is more difficult to compare to an app like Transmission. It doesn’t have the same headless capabilities out of the box that Transmission does, and Transmission can be configured to automatically download from folders, RSS feeds, and other sources without your interaction, which makes it ideal for downloading anything you want as soon as its available. It also has command line features to run on linux without a GUI enabled, or remote management—near necessary if you plan to run it on a Raspberry Pi, a home theater PC, or a network-attached storage (NAS) device. None of this is to say qBittorrent can’t be cobbled into a similar solution, just that Transmission is much easier for that purpose.

Still, we can’t choose for you. At the end of the day, all three have their merits, and again, these aren’t the only ones worth considering. Maybe none of these are up your alley and you should check out Vuze, or Deluge, or Tixati, or rTorrent, for example. The bottom line is to always consider your use case and needs, not just what’s popular, and choose something that fits them first.

Source: Lifehacker