BitTorrent Gives Developers A Cloud-Free Alternative


As privacy and security become bigger concerns, developers who want to store users’ data securely may be interested in a new API from BitTorrent that offers more options and a lower barrier to entry than its predecessor. 

BitTorrent is already familiar to many for its peer-to-peer file transfer technology that enabled websites like The Pirate Bay to exist. But the company has been branching out and finding different, more specialized applications for its core technology. 

In 2013, it launched BitTorrent Sync, a file-synchronization service that operates similar to applications like Box and Dropbox. BitTorrent Sync, however, doesn’t use the cloud as it’s conventionally conceived: None of the data being transferred ends up on a third-party server. Instead, it’s shared from device to device as needed—and can even work when devices are connected to each other but aren’t on the Internet.

Soon after releasing Sync, BitTorrent also released an API for the product, and let developers play around with it. Since then, they’ve seen four primary uses for their sync technology: file integration, workflow management, automatic syncing, and custom reporting. 

There have also been outlier projects that the team didn’t expect at all, according to Erik Pounds, BitTorrent’s vice president of product management. The highest profile one of these was a project by Jack Minardi, an electrical engineer, Harvard fellow, and cofounder of Voxel8, a 3D-printing company. 

Minardi’s project is a decentralized Web page, available only to users with approved machines. Here’s how Torrentfreak explains the process

By self-publishing websites locally, everyone with access to a machine through BitTorrent Sync/SyncNet can view it peer-to-peer without the need to access a traditional server-based website. Any changes to the website are automatically pushed to users and since BitTorrent Sync has a feature to grant users read-only access, there’s no risk of unauthorized modification of content.

The Sync API 2.0, which launches Wednesday, should encourage more creative projects like Minardi’s. The API is more flexible—the number of API calls, or allowable operations, has tripled from 14 to 42—but more importantly, it should also be easier to use. That’s because this time around, BitTorrent built the API using the REST (representational state transfer) style, which means testing out commands should be faster and smoother for developers. 

“It was much easier to develop,” said Theron Lewis, one of BitTorrent’s senior engineers and lead API developer. “It was much easier to write sample apps than it was for the previous API. [Using REST], there’s tons of other toolkits and frameworks and stuff that will make integration much easier. The internal framework we set up makes it easier to incorporate new functionality.” 

Pounds and Lewis said BitTorrent issued 6,300 developer keys for the previous version of the API, suggesting a substantial level of interest in Sync. 

One such developer is Onehub, an enterprise file-sharing service, which will use Sync to allow for faster file transfer. 

“They had a challenge where [their product] was all cloud-based, which most file-sync solutions are,” Pounds said. “For some of their customers that was just too slow.” 

Onehub used Sync and its APIs to create a service that transfers files directly between machines while simultaneously creating a backup copy in the cloud.

While file-sharing is an obvious application for Sync, it’s the offline capabilities that have yet to be plumbed. Sync could find a home among developers of wearables and other devices that only have intermittent connections to the Internet, for which Amazon, Box, Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft’s Internet-dependent services just won’t work.

Photo by Lachlan Donald

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