Download Torrents in Your Browser with BitTorrent Surf

My former workplace had very restrictive IT policies and so every computer was locked down, which meant that to install any software, you needed the administrator password. And the last time Canonical released a new version of Ubuntu, it was a living nightmare for me. I needed to download that OS as quick as possible to write about it, but as anyone who has downloaded Ubuntu on day zero knows, it’s pretty much impossible to do that through the direct HTTP download. And here I was, stuck on a PC that wouldn’t let me grab it off the torrent like I usually do.

How I wish I knew about BitTorrent Surf at that time…

What’s BitTorrent Surf?

Simply put, BitTorrent Surf is a torrent client that runs in your browser. Currently in beta, it is available as an extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. You can download it off the Chrome Web Store or the Firefox Add-Ons library.

Bittorrent-Surf-Ubuntu-downloading

The behaviour of the extension is slightly different on the two browsers. In Chrome, clicking the Surf icon in the extension bar causes it to pop out as a window. In Firefox, clicking the icon has Surf displayed as a tray, which looks much cooler and is better behaviour. I have no idea why the makers would change this, but that’s how it is.

A cool-looking dropdown tray on Firefox. Not so much on Chrome...

A cool-looking dropdown tray on Firefox. Not so much on Chrome…

One thing I really liked about BitTorrent Surf is that the extension syncs across the two browsers. What this means is that if you have it installed on both Firefox and Chrome on the same machine, it will show the same status in both—and changes made in one are reflected in the other. I thought that was quite cool, especially since I switch between the two browsers often for different tasks.

Super Search

Since it integrates with your browser, BitTorrent Surf can obviously do a bit more on the online front. And perhaps its coolest feature is the search functionality.

By default, Surf asks you to choose one of the three major search engines—Google, Yahoo or Bing—so that it can perform searches using those. And it’s also got Internet Archive and BitTorrent Featured Content as built-in search add-ons. It also gives you BitTorrent Bundle recommendations regularly, which is a nice bonus.

Surf automatically detects torrent sites and adds them to its universal search engine

Surf automatically detects torrent sites and adds them to its universal search engine

It’s a pretty fantastic system. Start Surf and there’s a search bar ready for you. Type your query, hit Enter and it will start giving you results for torrents from all across the internet, whether you have specified it to search through those sites or not. As long as they appear on the search engine, they’ll show up in Surf.

What’s more, whenever you visit any torrent repository like Clearbits, The Pirate Bay or others, BitTorrent Surf automatically recognizes it and prompts you to add it to the list of sites it will search by default. Of course, you can manually add sites too.

What You Can Do

Obviously, BitTorrent Surf won’t let you do everything a full-fledged torrent client like µTorrent or Deluge would allow for. But it takes care of some basic functions.

For starters, it can be set as your default handler for magnet links, so whenever you want to download something, just click on the Magnet icon and it will automatically start the download in Surf—just one click.

Set download location, adjust how long you want to share, and choose to make Surf your default client

Set download location, adjust how long you want to share, and choose to make Surf your default client

Also, you can set the folder that all the torrents should be downloaded to. You can also specify how long you want to share the torrent, whether by specified time or by percentage of size.

The interface is lean, but you can still check out basic information like the number of active seeds and peers by hovering over the ‘Health’ bars of the torrent, as well as pausing, resuming or removing it.

What You Can’t Do

That said, there are still plenty of limitations in BitTorrent Surf. One of the things I like most about other torrent clients is choosing which files I want to download and which I want to skip. There’s no such option in BitTorrent Surf—you download the whole torrent or nothing.

Also, you cannot prioritise the downloads, so you are allocating the same amount of bandwidth to all of them.

How do I find out more about these results?

How do I find out more about these results?

And while the Search function is great, it doesn’t let you double-click to see the file in its original website, where you can find out additional information like the uploader’s notes or the comments from others who have downloaded the file. That’s major missing information, in my books.

Worth It?

For all its shortcomings, BitTorrent Surf is a pretty solid client if you are someone who uses torrents only occasionally. If what you need is the odd open-source software and stuff, Surf is a really cool extension to have. It’s light, it works across browsers, it’s easy and it saves you the trouble of installing yet another program on your PC. Simply put, it’s just convenient.

Where it falters is in catering to someone who needs a little more power from his or her torrent client. If you download torrents frequently or are someone who is used to tweaking what you are getting, then it’s probably best to stick with your current desktop solution.


Summary

BitTorrent Surf is a tiny torrent client built into your browser, complete with a robust search engine that searches across different websites

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