Not long ago, if you were working on a project with someone, the only way to share a file with them was to send a physical copy. Co-authors would print out drafts on paper and send them to collaborators via couriers or the postal service. Editing teams would swap film or video cassettes back and forth, often relying on delivery or courier services, too.
Today, if you want to send a colleague a file, it’s relatively simple to open your email interface, create a message, attach the file, and click send. When emailing files works, it works, and it can help streamline the collaboration process. However, you might encounter a problem trying to send large files over email, because many email servers have size limits for attachments. Gmail, for instance, only lets you attach files up to 25MB. The 25MB limit applies to all files in the message, not per file, by the way, which makes it even more challenging to send multiple files at once.
File-size limits aside, email isn't usually the best way to send certain types of files. For one thing, email isn’t always secure, and someone could intercept what's in the message. Fortunately, today, you have other, more secure options for transferring big files.
The best ways to transfer large files
You have several options for sharing large files such as video or audio files, and these methods are also effective for smaller files, such as .PDF or .doc files.
One of the first things to do is decide whether you want to use a physical device or a cloud-based method to store your files. Using a physical device such as a hard drive or flash drive has its benefits, but sharing the device requires you to arrange for an in-person exchange. Cloud-based options eliminate the need for a physical drive while freeing up space on your computer and email client.
1. Upload your files to cloud storage
Many businesses rely on content for their daily operations. Your company might have contracts, marketing videos, audio recordings of interviews, and photographs from events to store, edit, and share among colleagues. The Content Cloud offers a secure place to store your files and share them with other team members. In addition to easily sharing files, Box allows you to annotate them to share your opinions and make suggestions for changes.
When you upload files to the Content Cloud, your team can access them from any device. If a team member is working remotely, they can log into Box from their home computer or tablet to stay up to date on any changes made to the shared files.
File-size limits for the Content Cloud depend on the plan you purchase. With the Basic Business plan, the maximum file size is 5GB — considerably larger than the standard email file-size limit of 25MB. With an Enterprise plan, you can upload files up to 50GB, while the Enterprise Plus plan lets you upload and share files up to 150GB.
Sharing large files in the Content Cloud is easy. After you've uploaded the file to Box, click the "Share" button. Type the email addresses of the people you want to share the file with and include a note if you’d like. Box will send recipients a notification that you've shared the file. Once they get the notification, they can open the file from the Content Cloud. You can also set specific permissions levels determining whether they can simply view or actually edit the file.
The Content Cloud also integrates with a wide variety of apps, including Google Drive, OneDrive, Slack, and Zoom, making it easier for you to access your files and share updates with your team in the ways you’re already comfortable working. Using the Content Cloud is your best option if you regularly need to send and collaborate on large video, audio, or image files.
2. Compress the files
When you're packing up physical items for storage, you can save a lot of space by removing the excess air around them with a compression-packing cube or a vacuum sealer. A similar concept exists for large digital files. File compression reduces the size of a file so it can travel faster over the internet.
While packing cubes and vacuum sealers squeeze out the extra air, file compression programs and file zippers remove repetitive data and patterns. The compressor or zipper either discards the additional data or replaces it with a unique identifier. The ID accomplishes the same thing as the data but takes up a lot less space, shrinking the file size considerably.
Whether you've ever intentionally "zipped" a file or not, you've likely run across a compressed file. MP3s and JPEGs are two examples. When a song or audio recording gets saved as an MP3, certain pitches or sounds that won’t be audible anyway get cut from the file. JPEGs compress files by removing non-essential aspects of an image. A JPEG picture of a tree might have just one or two shades of green, while the uncompressed version would have many.
Compression can affect the quality of files, particularly in the case of MP3s or JPEGs. But often, the loss of quality isn't noticeable. A JPEG might be more pixelated than a RAW file, but if the image is viewed on Instagram, the quality difference is likely irrelevant.
MP3 and JPEG files are examples of lossy compression. Once the data is removed from these files, it's gone. If you need to restore the data once the file has reached its destination, use a form of lossless compression. Rather than discarding data, lossless compression replaces the information it trims with an identifier that then restores data when the file gets unzipped. You can use a compression software program to zip files. Many operating systems will automatically unzip the files as the recipient opens them.
Once you've compressed a large file or files, you can usually send them over email. File compression is a good option if you’re sending several large files to a single person. It's worth noting that some files, like JPEGs and MP3s, are already compressed. You can’t compress them further without negatively affecting their quality. Although you can password-protect compressed files, this method isn't as secure as uploading the files to the Content Cloud.
3. Use a VPN
Like email servers, some internet service providers (ISPs) also limit the amount of bandwidth a user can take up when uploading files. An ISP might have a data cap that prevents customers from uploading or downloading excessive amounts of data.
Using a virtual private network (VPN) offers a data-cap workaround. VPNs are designed to increase privacy by encrypting the data that gets sent from your device. When you use a VPN, the information your device sends travels along an encrypted pathway. At the end of the path is the VPN's server. Once your data reaches the server, it travels on to its final destination without a bad actor being able to detect that the data came from your device.
A VPN is ideal when you regularly use public Wi-Fi networks and want to ensure your information stays confidential and secure. Another way to use a VPN is to transfer files. Since the data travels along an encrypted pathway as it leaves your device, your ISP cannot detect the size of the file. The ISP will have no way of knowing how big the file is or where it came from. Sending a large file over a VPN is also a good option if you're connected to public Wi-Fi and want to keep the file's contents secure.
There are drawbacks to using a VPN to share large files, though. For one thing, there’s always a risk that transferring the file through VPN could damage the file, rendering it unrecognizable by the time it arrives at its destination.
Sending files through a VPN can also affect the quality of your connection. As the file gets uploaded, you're likely to notice a drop in your connection speed.
4. Use a USB flash drive or hard drive
Portable data storage has come a long way from the floppy drives that were common once upon a time. The earliest floppy discs had a storage capacity of just 110KB. USB flash drives available today can have a storage capacity of up to 1TB (or 1 billion KB). If you have several large files to share, one option is to load them onto a flash drive or portable hard drive, then hand the drive to the recipient.
Using a flash drive or hard drive to transfer large files has its benefits and drawbacks. A notable benefit is that adding content to the drive is simple. Usually, all you need to do is save the file directly to the drive. Among the drawbacks, it's possible to lose or damage the drive — or for someone to steal it. Flash drives are also called thumb drives because they are usually about the size of a human thumb, and some even smaller, which makes it easy to misplace them or leave them in a pocket on laundry day.
They’re also easy to damage. If the drive falls to the ground, someone can step on it or run it over. If it goes through the wash and gets plugged in before it's fully dry, you lose the data on the drive.
Portable hard drives are bigger than flash drives, but can still get misplaced, stolen, or damaged. They’re also likely to wear out after a few years.
Obviously, another massive drawback of using a flash drive or hard drive to share large files is that you have to physically hand off the device. If you share an office with the other person, that might not be a big deal. But if you need to share content with a client on the other side of town or in a different state or country, you'll need to arrange transportation or shipping. If the content is particularly time-sensitive, you're better off uploading it to the cloud to share.
5. Use file transfer protocol (FTP)
FTP and its cousins — secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) and file transfer protocol secure (FTPS) — are relatively old-school ways of transferring files between computers. To use FTP, you need to download an FTP client to your device. You can then upload files to the appropriate server. Once on the server, other people with access to that server can download those files.
FTP isn't encrypted, so it's not the safest way to share files. FTPS increases security by adding password protection or by verifying the server's certificate. SFTP sends your files over a secure shell, offering an additional layer of protection. It also lets you encrypt the password and username.
It’s usually free to share files via FTP, with no file-size limits. One drawback, however, is that FTP isn’t as user-friendly as a cloud-based storage system. The more secure options, FTPS and SFTP, typically require a level of technical knowledge that the average person doesn't have.
How to share different types of files
Which file sharing method is best for you and your team? It depends on the size and type of files you need to transfer back and forth. Let's take a closer look at the ways to share various types of files:
How to share photos and image files
Photo file sizes can be substantial, depending on the file format you use. For example, RAW images, which are unprocessed and uncompressed, can be up to 40MB. A compressed JPEG image is usually around 4 to 6MB in size.
You can send compressed images, such as JPEG files, over email, but the files won't all end up in the same place. The sender keeps a copy. The recipient receives another copy. If they edit that version and send it back, more copies are made, and version control becomes very confusing. At the very least, it’s an inefficient workflow.
Often, uploading photos and other images into the Content Cloud is the easiest way to transfer them to others. Once the files are in Box, you can share them with other users, granting them edit permissions if needed.
How to share PDFs
You can also usually share PDF files over email, as long as they don’t exceed the file-size limitations of your email software. Simply attach the file to the message and click “Send.” As with emailed images, sharing PDFs over email creates multiple versions of the content.
If your goal is to share and collaborate on PDFs, .docs, or other text-based files, a better option is to upload them to the Content Cloud. When you share the PDF with others, you can assign permissions to it. The people you share it with can edit it or simply view it. Everyone works from the same file, so any changes that are made or any annotations people leave will be visible to everyone.
How to share files larger than 25MB
With few exceptions, email is out of the question if you want to send files that are bigger than 25MB. Your options for very large files include using a flash drive, cloud storage, FTP, or compression. Of the four, uploading the content to the cloud and then sharing it with your collaborators is likely going to be the most convenient and secure method. Compressing the file can affect its quality, and FTP can be tough to figure out. A flash drive needs to physically move from point A to point B, which can be an issue if you're short on time.
Using a cloud-based storage system to share large files is often the most secure option. FTP, as we noted, isn't secure at all, and the secure versions of it — FTPS and SFTP — create complexity for users. Compressing a file doesn't protect it from bad actors, unless you also password-protect the compressed file. Finally, USB drives are pretty easy to steal or misplace.
Box has built-in security and compliance features that are designed to keep your data and files safe in the Content Cloud. Security features include:
- Multi-actor authentication
- Password protection
- User permissions
- Sharing controls, such as links that expire
- Device verification
Additionally, the Content Cloud is designed to comply with specific regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If your larger files need to be kept confidential, send them to your team through the Content Cloud.
Secure file and document sharing with Box
Your business runs on content. You need a way to share your files with your coworkers and clients that's simple and intuitive. Box makes it easy to collaborate on projects and to share large files with employees and authorized users. Our cloud-native security and compliance available through Box Shield helps you protect the content you share with classification, access controls, and watermarking.
With Box Relay, you can complement easy file sharing with automated collaborative workflows. Establish workflow templates across every department with no coding required. Keep your content moving effortlessly and streamline work with the programs you already use with the more than 1,500 integrations Box offers.
To learn more about the Content Cloud and the benefits of using a single platform for all your content needs, contact us today.