Human-friendly headless torrents

A little while ago I was looking for a nice way to handle my automated torrent downloading on my server and consequently going through the options. Here are some that I’ve known about and used before:

  • rtorrent – a *nix command-line torrent client. Not very people-friendly at all in its default state, but a reasonably capable client
  • Deluge – a multiplatform client written in Python. Comes in web interface, daemon and GUI flavours (perhaps CLI too? I didn’t check)
  • Transmission – another multiplatform client. Comes in various flavours as well, bundled by default on Ubuntu (last time I saw, anyway)
  • ųTorrent – an extremely lightweight torrent client for Windows and Mac
  • kTorrent – a KDE-based torrent client. Can’t find platform information on a quick search.
  • qBittorrent – a Qt-based multiplatform torrent client
  • Vuze – a Java-based torrent downloader. One of the granddaddies of torrent clients.

A few years ago I used kTorrent until I had some issues with it not being quite stable yet during the KDE3 to KDE4 transition, and I tried out Transmission and Deluge for a while. Transmission’s user interface – like many other GTK applications – felt a bit like a dinky toy, but other than that the client mostly worked (I had some speed issues too that didn’t seem to come up with other clients, but never investigated much because I didn’t care for it). Deluge was what I went to after this, flicking over to Vuze every now and then when I felt I could stomach the Java crap. Through all of this, I was still usually downloading from my desktop.

After a while, I wanted to try out some other clients and at this time became a user of qBittorrent and ųTorrent, depending on what OS I was booted into. This was not ideal: I would like my downloads to continue somewhere I don’t have to care about them, regardless of what OS I was in. Which brings us to the list of requirements:

  • Keep downloading, no matter what OS I’m in
  • Be simple to interface with
  • Have the ability to do ratio-based download control as well as speed control
  • Give me some useful statistics and information. If there’s something wrong, I might want to try debug and fix it (this is probably why Transmission failed, in retrospect)
  • Preferably have some way to automatically start things by following RSS/Atom, or something of the sort.
  • Play well with the hardware/resources I would be able to give it

So, requirement 1 essentially meant I wouldn’t be using X (not even xvfb). I wouldn’t want to run a Windows VM either, and now and then ųTorrent under Wine could bomb out. So that leaves us with Deluge, rtorrent, Transmission and Vuze.

Having gotten annoyed at Transmission before, and not having enough RAM around to use Vuze without screwing over the rest of my Proliant Microserver, Deluge was next up on the list. Ends up being reasonably simple to get going, satisfies most/all of the requirements I had, but I did find some issues. The web interface can get *really* slow when you have a lot of torrents loaded; and deluged would get “stuck” sometimes, bad enough that it’d turn into a zombie process when terminated (this may or may not be because I run my server on Debian Testing). Obviously not ideal for uninterrupted autonomous work. So as little as I wanted to, I ended up with rtorrent.

After a while of dicking around with the configs and automation bits, here’s a working setup with everything you may want to get started with.

First off, rssdler config (to fetch .torrent files over RSS):

downloadDir = /storage/rss/var/watch
workingDir = /storage/rss/var/rssdler/working
minSize = 0
log = 3
logFile = /storage/rss/var/log/rssdler-downloads.log
verbose = 4
cookieFile = /storage/rss/etc/rssdler/cookies.txt
cookieType = MozillaCookieJar
scanMins = 10
sleepTime = 2
runOnce = True

link = http://site1.tld/rss
directory = /storage/rss/var/watch
regExTrue = Gutenberg|Baen
regExFalse = PDF

link = http://site2.tld/rss
directory = /storage/rss/var/watch
regExTrue = Oranges
regExFalse = Apples

Most of those options are pretty self-explanatory, so the only ones I’ll comment are are regExTrue and regExFalse: these are used to decide what from the RSS feed you want, and what you don’t. Things that match regExTrue are kept, things that match regExFalse are discarded.

A momentary note about the cookie-file format too: using MozillaCookieJar means your cookie file should be in the Netscape cookie format. Tab-separated columns on the cookie item lines.

I run rssdler from cron every 15 minutes (yes, I know it can run as a daemon, let’s just say I’m erring on the side of caution after the deluged experience on my box at the moment). The config line for my user’s cron look as follows:

# torrent stuff
*/15 * * * * /storage/rss/bin/ -c /storage/rss/etc/rssdler/rssdler.cfg -r

Next up, the rtorrent config:

## general settings
# set our working directories and sessions folder so we can persist torrents across application sessions
directory = /storage/rss/var/content/downloading
session = /storage/rss/var/sessions
port_range = 1024-65535

# set initial download rates
upload_rate = 30
download_rate = 25

## scheduler
# watch for new torrents
schedule = watch_directory,5,5,load_start=/storage/rss/var/watch/*.torrent
schedule = untied_directory,5,5,stop_untied=
schedule = tied_directory,5,5,start_tied=

# time-based throttles
schedule = throttle_1,22:00:00,24:00:00,download_rate=25
schedule = throttle_2,00:00:00,24:00:00,download_rate=25
schedule = throttle_3,05:00:00,24:00:00,download_rate=25

## dht
dht = auto
peer_exchange = yes

## events
# notification
system.method.set_key =,notify_me,"execute=/storage/bin/,$d.get_name="

# move on complete
system.method.set_key =,move_complete,"execute=mv,-u,$d.get_base_path=,/storage/rss/var/content/done;d.set_directory=/storage/rss/var/content/done"

## encryption
encryption = allow_incoming,try_outgoing,enable_retry

## allow rpc remote control
scgi_port =
encoding_list = UTF-8

Most of the comments are in the appropriate sections, since rtorrent’s internal config language is a bit crap to read. Also note that I think my throttles are configured incorrectly at the moment, need to verify that. With rtorrent in this config, I start it running under screen, which means it can continue running even when I’m logged out.

Lastly, the nginx config:

        location /RPC2 {
                include     scgi_params;
                scgi_param  SCRIPT_NAME  /RPC2;

This last bit is necessary for me to use Transdroid, a very nifty Android app I found which can act as a frontend to a few different clients from one’s mobile phone, which is damn nifty for checking up on the status of things from any random location.

And that’s it. The setup will download things from an RSS feed automatically, notify me with an email when any download completes, can be checked on quickly from my phone (and optionally any of the other rtorrent web interfaces which I didn’t check out), manage rates and ratios effectively, and I could even drop a .torrent file into the watch folder (by way of dropbox and some symlinks, for instance) and expect the same behaviour as any other torrent.