What does seeding mean while downloading?

Written by warren davies
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What does seeding mean while downloading?
Seeding means sharing the whole file with the rest of the swarm. (Martin Poole/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The term "seeding" applies to downloads carried out over the BitTorrent protocol, which is a peer-to-peer, or p2p file-sharing protocol. To share files, the BitTorrent protocol uses a network of computers, each having the file either in full or in part. The file is segmented into sections called "pieces," and rather than downloading an entire file from one source, a computer can pull different pieces from different sources, meaning the download speed is not limited to the upload speed of a single source.


In BitTorrent terminology, each computer currently downloading or uploading a particular file is called a "peer." When a peer has the completed file, and is still uploading the file, they are called a "seeder," or "seed." When looking at the display on your BitTorrent client, which is the program used to download files, the number of seeds therefore tells you how many people have all the necessary pieces of the file. If there are no seeds, you may not be able to acquire the entire file.


Seeding is generally considered good BitTorrent etiquette -- if no one seeded, no files would be available. "Leech" is a term which has two meanings -- some clients use the term synonymously with "peer," to indicate the number of clients downloading the file that do not have the whole file. Leech is also used to refer to users who never seed, and "leech" from the network, either by stopping the upload process when the download is complete, or through their client's upload settings.

The Swarm

All the users seeding or leeching a file are collectively called the "swarm." To give a few examples, if the torrent is being shared by 10 peers and 10 seeds, they make up a swarm of eight. If there are two seeds and 100, that makes a swarm of 102. Note that peers in the process of downloading can still upload the pieces they have obtained so far. The original seeder therefore only needs to upload one single copy of a file for every peer in the swarm to receive it. The technical term for this is segmented downloading.


This is a form of seeding intended to increase the initial availability of a file within the swarm. Imagine one seed is connected to 100 peers, and wants to send a file with 100 pieces. If the seeder sends the same piece to each peer, all peers are limited by the seeders upload speed. However, if a different piece is sent to each peer, they can begin sharing these pieces with each other, making more pieces available to other peers, and so on until all peers have the full file.

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