For a long time now magnet links have been a mainstay of all the major web browsers, making life a little easier for people downloading torrent files. But what exactly are magnet links? How do you set them up and open them? And how do you change the program that they link to? We reveal all here.
What Is a Magnet Link?
First, a quick introduction. Magnet links and torrent files go hand in hand, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. In fact, if you use a magnet link, you don’t even need to download a torrent file to start downloading the content. Its crucial identifying information – the hash – is calculated on a given website rather than on the torrent client and sent directly to your Bittorrent program.
The benefits of this are that a site doesn’t need to host the original torrent file any more, just provide the link. For the user, this cuts out the need to download a torrent file before downloading the content, and for the site, it saves on bandwidth because it doesn’t need to host files on its servers.
The vast majority of torrent sites these days use magnet links.
Open Magnet Links in Chrome
First, you’ll need to make sure that Chrome will allow you to create magnet links. To do this, go to Settings, then click the menu icon at the top-left, “Advanced,” then “Privacy and Security.”
Next, click “Content Settings -> Handlers” and “Allow sites to ask to become default handlers for protocols (recommended).”
You just need to find a torrent download site that hosts magnet links (most of them do), select the file you want to download, and choose “Magnet Download,” if there is such an option. If not, just select the default download option, and there’s a good chance it will be a magnet link.
If it is a magnet link you’re downloading, you’ll get a message offering to open the magnet link with your Bittorrent platform of choice.
In our case this is Vuze. When Chrome asks you if you want to open your Bittorrent client, tick the box that says “Always open these types of links in the associated app.”
Open Magnet Links in Firefox
To open magnet links in Firefox, you again find a torrent file you want to download, and a pop-up should appear asking you which program (usually your bit torrent client) you want to open the file with. To reset the association and get the dialog to appear again, do the following.
In the Firefox address bar, enter
about:config, then on that page search for
network.protocol-handler.expose.magnet. Right-click this preference, and click “Toggle” to make sure the “Value” is set to “false.”
Open Magnet Links in Other Browsers
If you already have a Bittorrent client, the process for associating magnet links in other browsers is largely similar. Just find the file you want to download, click it, and if it’s a magnet link, then your Torrent client should open automatically, or you may get a prompt asking if you want to open the magnet file with your Bittorrent app, like this message in Microsoft Edge that is pictured below.
If nothing happens when you click the magnet link, or you get the message that “this file does not have an app associated with it,” then you need to create the file association manually.
Go to the Windows Registry Editor (Win + R, enter
regedit into the box) and navigate to the following location:
In the registry pane on the right under “Data,” it should show the directory of your Bittorrent app followed by some other text. So for Utorrent in its default directory, it should look like this:
If the information under Data doesn’t match with your Bittorrent client directory, right-click “(Default),” click “Modify,” and enter the correct directory for your Bittorrent client executable, making sure that it’s followed by
Once you’ve done this, all your browsers should associate magnet links with your Bittorrent app of choice.
As you can see, much of the work for creating magnet link associations in your browsers is done at the Windows end rather than through the browser itself. Once you have a Bittorrent client, and everything’s in order in your registry, most browsers will know what to do with magnet links when you use them.
This article was first published in February 2010 and was updated in July 2019.
Image credit: The pirate bay website homepage by Casimiro PT/Shutterstock