(updated 12/12/2012)

Napster was the first peer-to-peer music download program I used (back in 2000). I have left this page in my site so I can look back and see how much has changed, and how little has changed... I am now using the free version of Limewire.


Tips for using Napster...

Just about everyone has heard of Napster, and many have already tried it out and understand how it works, but it still seems worthwhile to make some notes for myself as to how best use this service.

First, it is possible for anyone to use this site, but - you will need an Internet connection of at least 56K. (Roger's) Cable and (Sympatico's High Speed) DSL connections work very well for the home user.

From Napster's site, download the latest version of the Napster installation software (as of 02/27/01 it was Napster for Windows - Latest Version: 2.0 beta 9.6).

Install the software, following Napter's guidelines, and you will have an icon on your desktop that will take you to their site. Make sure you note your user name and password for future use.

Under Preferences, you should set a couple of things before you start downloading. Under Sharing, direct Napster to use a specific folder you have created in Explorer for storing uploadable MP3s. The maximum number of simultaneous outbound transfers defaults to 3, and Napster handles port settings by itself.

Under Downloading, direct Napster to put your downloads in the same folder as you will upload from. You can play with the maximum number for simultaneous inbound transfers, but getting 5-10 going at once is about all you will be able to successfully manage. Set Napster to "delete partial files..." and to "remove successful downloads from transfer window".

Beyond this, you will spend most of your time in the Search, Transfer, and My Files windows. Again, a number of basic settings will insure that you don't suffer too many low-quality downloads.

Click the Advanced button the first time you enter the Search window to reveal the additional download-qualifying fields. Set Bitrate to AT LEAST 192 KB/s to get at the higher-quality files. 128 is listenable and is very good for the spoken word, 160 is good, 192 is very good for popular music, 256 is near CD quality - for your favourites, and 320 is supposed to be virtually identical to the original. Manipulating this number can increase or reduce the number of files shown for retrieval. Napster looks for the first 100 compliant files, then stops.

The higher bit rate may be misleading in the fact that not all MP3 files are created equally. An MP3 file's quality often depends on the calibre of sound card and CD players used in their creation. The "recording" software also may have had a beneficial or detrimental affect.

Set Connection to AT LEAST DSL to get speedier downloads. While not always accurate, this is a starting point. Some purported "T1" connections turn out to be very slow, while some "14.4" connections turn out to be the fastest of all. An exceptional transfer rate is above 80 k/s, a very good transfer rate is above 50, a decent transfer rate is above 20, and sometimes getting the file you want from a small number of available files may mean accepting rates as low as 2 or 3. Manipulating this number can also increase or reduce the number of files shown for retrieval.

The colored circles indicate the reported connection speed of a given user. Green means this user has a cable modem or better (DSL, T1, T3). Yellow means the user has a 56k modem or ISDN-128k. Red means the user has a connection rate of 33.6 or lower.

PINGing search results can reveal how far away a file may be, in a measure of transfer time - the higher the ping, the farther away. Qualifying a search with Ping Time is usually not necessary, but selecting a lower ping time from a list of otherwise identical files is wise.

Use only as many words in the search fields as is necessary to get the result you want. Spelling is very important - Napster seems to only find exact words. Having "Help" in the Title field of the search below yielded this result, while "Helps" revealed absolutely nothing. You might think that this is obvious and need not be spoken about, but think again. Searching for Boz Scaggs "Harbour Lights" yielded fair results while "Harbor Lights" with the American spelling yielded all kinds of versions. And you might be surprised at how many Napster users can't spell - you can find different "Renaissance" songs with several variations around the correct spelling.

Notice how the album's name has come up in a big way in the example below, yielding all kinds of songs that aren't Help(ing). I don't know of any way to get around this. Problems can arise when you don't like the search results and you have to get very exclusive in the qualifying fields to get at a song you want.

Exclusions... If you want to exclude items containing certain terms from your results, use a minus sign (-) directly before terms you want excluded. If you want to exclude more than one term, make sure to use the minus sign before each of those terms. If used creatively, this can greatly reduce unwanted retrievals.

Before you begin searching in earnest, it is a good idea to have CDNOW up simultaneously in your browser. (Use ALT-TAB to move back and forth from Napster to the CDNOW site in the browser.) Find the song you want in the CDNOW listings, and you will often see how long the song ought to be in the version you want (live or studio, abbreviated or full, original or import or reissue, etc.). With this info in hand, sort the files listed in the Search window by clicking on the column headers. Find the bitrate you want, consider the connection rate, check the song's length then double-click the entry to send your request. You will be taken to the Transfer window automatically, where you can watch to see if the file will transfer.

If the transfer fails, your search results are still in the Search window, and you can try to download the file from a different user. If the rate is slow, you can go back to the Search window, try a different user, and see if the transfer rate improves. If it does, you can cancel the first transfer. Once the transfer succeeds, you can proceed to the My Files (library) window, where you can test the file.

If the transfer rate is exceptionally high, right-click on the transfer line and add the user to your "hot list". You can then go to the Hot List window, select that user and see what other files they may have that you would like to get. Since you are here for speed, sort the list by length first, to see if there are any really long songs of decent quality you would like to download. After that, sort the list by bit rate to see what this user has that you can accept quality-wise. Once you have looked over all the files and have gotten what you want, you can delete this user from you Hot List.

In the lower part of the Transfer window, you may see others periodically downloading files from you. Since this is a community of file-sharers, you can expect and accept this.

In the My Files window, you can see what files you have. You can play them in the internal player by double-clicking their line entry. It is a good idea to check the front end, the middle, and the back end of each song to see if the song is all there. Sometimes you will grab the wrong file by mistake when searching, and you won't like what you get. Sometimes the result is wrong for some other reason - like you got an unflagged live version when you didn't want it that way, or the reported bit rate or song length is wrong. And sometimes the quality is just too low. If you are unhappy, go back to the Search window and begin downloading a different version from someone else.

Quality issues and filename-related issues can be dealt with simply in a couple of other ways. For more information, try here...

You can't be expected to keep all your MP3 files in the Napster folder forever. If you do decide to move them to another location, like a folder that is not referenced in the Napster preferences, or off your machine and onto a CDR for storage, you can move them with Window's Explorer. If you do move them, Napster will be unaware of their movement, so songs in your list will remain there until Napster is later closed and restarted.

Newer versions of Napster come out periodically. You can safely install them overtop, and Napster should retain your preferences. How long Napster will remain up in its current format is anybody's guess.

I like to download the album covers from CDNOW so I can put them on the labels of CDs that I burn for myself. The images are low-quality but, kept small, they serve the purpose.


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