How do I send someone a large file?

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OK, I get that using email to send large files has lots of problems. So how am I supposed to do it? I have a large file that I need to send to someone; if I shouldn’t use email, what can I do?

A fair question.

Email certainly has the convenience factor nailed: add an attachment, press Send, and off it goes. The problem is that it might not get wherever you want it to go.

When it comes to large files in particular, we need to look at things just a little differently.

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Large files were never part of the plan

In my article “Why are emails I send with attachments not being delivered?,” I discussed some of the many problems with emailing large attachments.

We think of email as point-to-point: we send, they receive. In reality, that’s not how it works at all. There are several intermediaries that are responsible for getting that message from us to them. An email message can travel across many servers and machines along the way. It’s not something that we have control over, and it also contributes to the reason that excessively large emails are frowned upon, and occasionally even prohibited, by most email providers.

Email was never really meant as a way to transfer large files. That ability to attach files was added as a convenience, but the way email is encoded and transferred just doesn’t make it a very efficient way to move large files.

The alternative is conceptually very simple: upload the file somewhere and send a link.

Sending a file

Say I have a file, InternetSafety.pdf, that’s somewhat large1, and I want to email it to you. Your first reaction would simply be to attach that file to an email and hit send:

Email with a document as an attachment

Because of the way email encodes attachments, the resulting attachment in email is probably about around 20-40% bigger than the original.

The other approach is to first upload that document to a location accessible on the web and then send a link:

Email with a link to a document

That link is maybe 45-characters long. Most importantly, it’s much smaller than actually including the document itself and not likely to trip any attachment-related filters.

And all that your recipient needs to do is click on the link to download and access the file.

In fact, as an added benefit, your recipient gets to choose!

Give your recipient a choice

When you attach a large file to an email, you’re often forcing your recipient to download it, whether he wants to or not, and whether he has a fast internet connection or not. If the recipient has a slow internet connection and you send a large file, you could be forcing them to take excessive amounts of time (and perhaps eat up limited bandwidth) before they might even see your mail.

By uploading and sending a link, you’re giving your recipient a choice to download or not.

Sending your file as an attachment causes the file to be encoded and expanded slightly and then copied from your machine to mail server to mail server to mail server to your recipient’s machine. When you send a link, the file is copied in its original size exactly twice: once when you upload it and once when your recipient chooses to download it.

Upload where?

I know the very next question you have. “That’s all great, but where and how do I upload to someplace that people can see on the internet?”

There are many possibilities. One of the easiest is Dropbox.

After you install Dropbox, simply copy the file that you want to share into a folder within your Dropbox folder. Then right-click that file and click the Dropbox share link item:

Dropbox Share link

(You may instead see a Dropbox sub-menu with a copy link item therein as well.) Dropbox places a link in your clipboard:

Dropbox Link Shared

As part of Dropbox’s operation, the file was uploaded to the Dropbox servers. This link is valid anywhere that Dropbox can be reached on the internet. It’ll look something like this:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vkgkcub41fxp8l4/InternetSafety.pdf

Note that if you remove the file from your Dropbox folder, it will be removed from the Dropbox servers, and the link will no longer work. That means it’s important to leave the file in your folder until it’s no longer needed elsewhere.

On the other hand, if you update or alter the file in your Dropbox folder, the server copy will be updated as well, and the link will point to your updated copy.

Just remember to give the upload process enough time to actually upload the file from your machine before sharing the link with someone. Depending on the speed of your internet connection and the size of the file, this could take some time.

Other cloud storage services like Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Google Drive, and others have similar capabilities.

Other alternative upload locations

If Dropbox isn’t your thing, there are more alternatives.

  • You probably have some web space already, ready to use courtesy of your ISP. Check with them to see how you should access it, and how big it is. It’s typically perfect for exactly what I described above, regardless of what types of files you’re passing around.
  • If you’re primarily sharing pictures … use a free photo sharing site like Google’s Picasa, Yahoo’s Flickr, or any of a number of other alternatives. (Check out Photo Sharing Nuggets for more tips in this arena.)
  • If you’re primarily sharing videos, use YouTube. If you’re concerned about privacy, you can choose with whom to share your videos.
  • If you’re primarily sharing Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents, consider using Google Drive or similar tools. Not only can you import/upload existing documents, but you can edit and collaborate with others.
  • If you have your own website, you already have a place to upload files, just as I did in my example. There’s no need for them to be visible on the site; you can just upload and provide people a link.

If you’re still bent on using email, search for “send large email” or similar terms. You’ll find that there are many services that specialize in this area. Just remember that while you can send a huge file, it doesn’t mean that your recipient can receive it; it will depend on the technologies used. The best solutions here will boil down to some form of managed file hosting where your recipient is sent a link to the file.

With so many alternatives to using attachments (and so many problems if you do), it seems like there’s little reason to continue. With a little bit of research and education, you can send smaller, faster emails that get to the people you intend more reliably. Then, they can access those nifty photos, videos, documents, or other files that you’ve been trying to get to them.

Footnotes & references

1: “Large” is of course relative. Not only does it depend on the speeds and capacities of you and your recipient, it also depends on the capacities and rules of your ISP. On top of that things get faster over time, so what is considered “large” today may be considered acceptable someday in the future.

49 comments on “How do I send someone a large file?”

  1. I use Pando, from Pando.com. I earn nothing from this recommendation but it makes sending large files easy, and make sending a Folder even easier!
    It’s simply using an email notification, with a link, to very easily manage peer-to-peer ftp. If the recipient isn’t at home, she/he has 5 days to collect it from the Pando servers. I use it to receive packages of photos that I’ll be posting on client websites.

  2. If the file you are sending is extremely large. Like 700 MB or over, perhaps a movie or something else. You may also use torrent. It is specifically made for large files. You just have to download a p2p client like bittorent from http://www.bittorent.com and press create torrent. you than chose the file you want and create a torrent file. you may send the torrent file in the attachment and it is usually only a key kilobytes. then your friend can open the torrent file and download it strait from you. but you also have to make sure that you do not cancel the seeding untill u are shure he has it all. hope this helped, Ben Who

  3. Bit-torrent seems rather over the top for most people I’d say, but still otherwise a valid idea. (Though, wouldn’t you also need to submit the .torrent file to a tracker as well? If using a public tracker, anyone will have access to your file and though using your computer as a private tracker is possible, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do).

    Otherwise, MegaUpload.com will let you upload files of up to 1GB for free without a problem, more if you pay.

    And I’ve used MediaFire for years and it’s always worked very well for me. All documents are private by default so no-one can ever access your files without you sending them the link. (Note, it marks them as public in this state though). When you mark the files you upload to MediaFire as private only you can access them when you are signed in regardless of whether someone else has access to the link or not, so don’t set a file to private and then send someone the link.

    Yousendit and Upload.sc are both other possible options I’ve used before in the past.

  4. Question for BenWho re Torrent. Will this method handle files with multiple images as well as test ; or is there no difference. ??

  5. Re: FFacer

    If I understnad you correctly, it should make no difference regardless of the method you use.

    The only advantage of torrents is generally if you are sending the same thing to many people, or if you want to send a folder containing a collection of differing files (though this could alternatively just be zipped up and done though one of the other methods).

  6. Go to http://www.yousendit.com. You can upload any file up to 100 MB in size. Just click on the link at the bottom right (forget about creating a business account). You just plug in the e-mail addresses you want it to go to and select the file from your computer and bingo, it’s uploaded and stored for seven days. The e-mail addresses you’ve provided are sent an e-mail with a link to the stored file for their downloading. It’s simple, easy and has never failed me.

  7. Personally,I get a bit disappointed when any site asks for mine or my friends email address. I just think that they will sell it or spam it, however legitimate the site be. So yousendit.com will not be on my list. I think that uploading to a filesharing service & then sending the link is the best possible approach as suggested by Leo.

    Ravi.

  8. Wednesday, 29 October 2008 6:10:p.m.

    A relative put me onto GSplit which splits larger files into smaller ones and the recipient can then restitch them together.

    Have not used it for a year or two, but when I needed it it worked perfectly.

    http://www.gdgsoft.com/gsplit/

    Possibly a google search would throw more light on this and other “file splitters”.

  9. Nice post. You should try 2Large2Email because a) it’s very easy to use and b) secure. The other good thing is that it simply sends a link to the recipient to download the file. And @Ravi: with 2Large2Email you don’t have to worry about the company spamming you (or the recipient). These guys have a really strict policy on personal information so you won’t have an inbox filled with rubbish.

    Of course, there are free accounts so you can send files up to 100Mb in just minutes. Check it out!

  10. As a last resort, you can always do it the Old-Fashioned Way (almost): 1. Save the file to a CD-ROM 2. stick that CD-ROM into one of those CD Mailer envelopes 3. scribble your friend’s address onto it (and preferably your own “Return” address as well) 4. plaster a First-Class postage stamp on it 5. seal it, and (finally) 6. shove the whole schmeer into Ye Olde Publick Mailbox (by which I mean the physical kind that sits on your street corner).

    Believe it or not (probably not), that’ll actually WORK!!! 🙂

  11. I still have a Windows XP SP2 in my PC but most of tips are more related to Windows Vista. How can I do do continue receiving also tips for XP SP@?

  12. I use a simple method for sending files of unlimited size. (I have transferred files of more than 10 gigabytes.)
    Method: Think up a ridiculous name for your file something along the lines of “hxvshdnfmgkhiyut”. Send an email to your recipient giving the unique file name.
    Using one of the P2P programmes available (I use limewire for preference) save your file into your “shared files” folder and leave the programme running in the background until your recipient sends back an email to advise receipt.
    Using the stupid unique filename ensures that no-one else will pick up the file accidentally.
    This is only recommended if you both have broadband.

  13. With new hotmail I am UNABLE to attach photos from my storage by pressing “Attach File”. The instructions read press “Upload Now” I think but there is NO SUCH BUTTON on my screen. How do I do it with our NEW hotmail? Many thanks!

  14. My sister and I visit all the time using Windows Live Messenger so that we can see each other. Recently I sent her a 920MB file containing a photoshow with music, while we were talking, and it went through just fine. It took about 20 minutes but when she opened it it was all there.

  15. File Apartment is another option..

    – Up to 1 GB
    – Easy to use
    – Free option, safe, and secure
    – No software to download or registration required

  16. I’ve used Tonsho for the last year and am a very happy customer. You can send large email attachments either through their website or using your usual email program, Send files up to 5Gb using their website (much better than most other services) or 100Mb using usual email program. Their website has a really good description of how the service works for people like me who want to know what a service does with their files before using it! Really easy to use service.

  17. For sending files of any size you could try Click2Copy.com.
    It sends the file directly to the recepient without storing it on any servers. I.e. both parties have to be online during transmission.
    It’s free and also supports resuming of broken file transfers.

  18. Many ISPs give you free webspace, so if you don’t have DropBox or the like, but your ISP gives you space, then save it in your free space and email the link.

  19. I have used some of the methods suggested; and also the File Transfer facility on TEAMVIEWER, both with full access to the remote PC; and also the limited, temporary access method.

  20. One question concerning Dropbox & sharing links…If I put documents in the Public file, click on a file within it, then use the “share link” will the person I share it with only be able to open that one document I shared and will have no access to any other files in the Public file? I just want to be sure that if I put personal files in the Public file no one can get to any of them unless I send them that one file through the “share link.” I hope you understand what I’m trying to ask. Thank you.

    • Brenda:
      Anyone knowing the names of any files in the public folder would be able to download those files. If you don’t want any files to be easily available to the public, you can put them in a non-public folder. If you want to be even more secure you can use an encryption program like BoxCryptor.

        • Once you have a link to one file in the Dropbox folder you have the name of that folder, and from there it would be possible to guess the names of possible files. For example, I uploaded the files for some school assignments, file names differing by the date. If anybody wanted, they could download any files in this sequence without having been given a link. So unless you give names with the randomness of a password, people might be able to guess some of the file names and download them.

  21. “Because of the way email encodes attachments, the resulting attachment in email is probably about around 20-40% bigger than the original.”

    Wouldn’t base64 encoding necessitate at least 4/3 (~33%) size increase, plus typically another 1/80 (possibly 2/80) for linebreaks, plus of course associated headers (although that’s trivial as filesize gets larger). I’d say 35% is a reasonable estimate, and certainly no less.

    This is of course assuming binary attachments. Text attachments can be handled with quoted-printable or similar with lower overhead, but that would typically be in the ~5% range.

  22. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Skype. It isn’t blazingly fast, but is extremely easy to use if you’re just sending to one recipient who also uses Skype. I don’t think there is any limit to the size of file you can send, and it’s free.

  23. I too am very surprised nobody mentioned Skype for large file transfers. Craig is right – there is no size limit, easy to use and fairly fast as I recall and Free.

  24. Some of these file sharing sites seem to force you to join their system or set up an account in order to access the file after you receive the link. That’s one disappointing fact that kept me using email rather than sharing.

    However, like most things in the www era, I finally started to use DropBox two months ago. Having accepted my first link, the next option I was faced with was whether to just open an account and view the file on the web, or actually download and install a DropBox folder on my computer. The difference is easy to miss, but I started with web only.

    I now have two accounts, the Work one has the DropBox folder downloaded, and the Personal one is only on the web. I actually think there was an older account from another email address a few years ago which I never used after set up because I was still uncomfortable with the concept then.

  25. I recently read a review of the (fairly) new Nokia Lumia 1020 mobile phone.

    The reviewer states that Microsoft has blocked DropBox, (on the Nokia phone, I mean), “presumably to force customers to use MS SkyDrive.”

    If you’re interested, you can read the whole article here:

    http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/cameras/nokia-lumia-1020-phcam-review-20131030-2weod.html

    I don’t have a Nokia phone, so it doesn’t bother me, and I can use both DropBox and Google Drive on my Android phone; however, this news may be of interest to anyone who uses a Windows-based phone.

  26. OMG, I did not know there was so many options. An insurance company I am trying to get a claim out of wants a heap of proof & are having trouble with just opening a 7MG zip file of mine that they assured me they could receive. I have been wondering if space was the issue – with all these options, that insurance company should no longer have a problem, thanks to you all.

  27. I use FTP to get files to and from my system. I have about 4 tb of space on my FTP NAS server. When I need to send (or receive) something form someone I know (and trust), I set the person up with a temporary account and pwd, and create a folder where they can put or take files that are large. If they are not a regular user on my system, I just de-activate their ID and pwd, until they need to get or send something in the future.

  28. I got some good ideas from the other posters but no one mentioned sendspace.com. You can send files up to 300mb through the free account and I haven’t found a limit on the number of files yet although I’m sure there is one. I have never gotten any spam either.

  29. I see people throw around a lot of alternative options, but I found that the best one is actually: http://www.filemail.com/

    Proof?

    1) Highest free file size limit out there BY FAR – 30 GB
    2) No registration needed, you just hit their homepage and send
    3) The upload speed seems better for me, though your results may vary 🙂

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