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Will receiving large attachments eat up all my disk space?


I sometimes get e-mails from a friend with massive downloads – 10 minutes to
download a 15-second “cute” but meaningless video. When I download these
things, are they copied to the hard drive somewhere? Should I periodically go
in and clean them out? If so, how? I use Yahoo e-mail. I haven’t noticed any
particular slowing yet, but if these 2-4 meg files are sitting somewhere on our
hard drive it’s bound to add up at some point.

I love cute videos as much as the next guy, but sending them around as email
attachments is just wrong. They take up way too much space, and take
way too much time to download. In an ideal world, the videos would simply live
on the web somewhere, and we’d just email each other a URL to the video, rather
than some huge copy of the video.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, so how best to manage what people send

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In your case, you’re probably in great shape. Using a web-based email
interface, such as Yahoo or Hotmail, the browser takes care of managing your
disk space for you.

Yes, the files are downloaded to your PC in order to be viewed, but they’re
placed in the “Temporary Internet Files” folder, or an equivalent. Browsers
such as Internet Explorer automatically manage that space, and delete least
recently used files when it fills up. You can control how much space is
allocated to these temporary files in the browser options, but for the most
part you won’t need to worry about it.

If you receive email using a regular email client, like Thunderbird, Outlook
Express, Outlook, Eudora and others, you need to be just a little more

To begin with, the message, including the huge attachment, is downloaded and
stored in your email folders. When you then play the attached video, the mail
program copies it to some temporary location – usually your system’s TEMP
directory. When you close the video player, and close the email that had the
attachment, the temporary copy may, or may not, be deleted. The good news here
is that Windows’ Disk Cleanup wizard will clean up any remnants in your system
TEMP directory.

“… for the most part, you needn’t worry too much about
any lasting effects on disk space …”

Naturally, you’ll need to delete the email from your mail folders when
you’re done watching the video. In most cases that will simply move the mail to
a “recycle bin” within your email program. If your mail program does this, then
to really delete it you’ll need to empty the recycle bin. Even then,
you may not see the disk space recovered until your mail program has
“compacted” its files. Most will do this in idle time while you’re not using
your computer, but most also have an explicit “Compact Now” option that will
force the operation to completion. Once that’s done, you should see the disk
space return.

The good news here is that, for the most part, you needn’t worry too much
about any lasting effects on disk space resulting from the huge attachments
your friends might send you. The normal behavior of your web and email programs
should handle things without your needing to take additional steps. At worst,
you might want to run the disk space cleanup utility every so often.

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8 comments on “Will receiving large attachments eat up all my disk space?”

  1. I am still a novice and do not even know how to download an email program. So I just have and Hotmail. I put the log in page in my favorites and then just to go favorites, get them in and put in my info. It is fast, do I need an email program such as outlook express, Thunderbird or whatever?

  2. I’m less concerned about using a program than I am about relying on Hotmail. If your email is not important to you, then Hotmail and other free services are fine. If, however, the thought of losing your email, possibly through no fault of your own, is a problem – then I strongly recommend getting and/or using a “real” email account. You may already have one through verizon. In that case, then, yes – using an email program that downloads your email and manages your contacts like Thunderbird or Outlook is the way to go. Along with an appropriate backup strategy that keeps you in control when (not if) something happens. This article has more:

  3. I’ve been on hotmail for I don’t know how many years. Before they were MS. I think I was within the first million or so to get an account. I’m not saying their service has always been perfect but I’ve never randomly lost a piece of mail. Is this really a common problem? Sure, anything can happen but it sounds like your saying don’t drive because you might have a wreck…

  4. A couple of years ago, I would have agreed with you. My hotmail account dates to just after MS acquired it, and like you, I’ve never had a problem.

    Then I started Ask Leo!

    I get more questions relating to problems, lost access, lost emails and lost contacts for HotMail than for any other free service.

    For all the free services, there is no support. Many people are using them improperly … they’re *relying* on them to keep critial information or critical contacts. Then, if there is a problem, there’s nowhere to turn and that critical information is simply lost, with no recourse.

    Hence I harp on not using free accounts, any free accounts, as the sole repository or sole email address for anything truly important. Get an account with some provider that includes support. It’s worth it.

    But the track record of incoming questions and problems is definitely disproportionately HotMail.

  5. Dear Leo: Everytime I go to close out, a page
    appears from Outlook Express suggesting
    I check the OK in order to compress
    disk space. I’ve been cancelling this
    option, thinking, that it gives them
    opportunity of viewing all my data.

    Appreciate your input, John

  6. No, no one’s interested in viewing all your data, but I have hear of compression causing people other problems such as data loss. I personally never compact, or only do so after I’ve completely backed up and then do it manuall.


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