When you decide to share a large file or folder online—perhaps you want to send a cute home movie to a doting relative, or need to back up a photo archive to a secondary location—then you can’t just attach it to an email. Under the virtual weight of all those 1s and 0s, your regular email client could collapse.
Instead, once your files reach a critical size, you must turn to apps and programs to shuttle them around the web. Here are the services you can use to shift a heavy data load, whether you’re transferring it from one computer to another or sharing it with another person.
File-syncing and cloud-storage service Dropbox also lets you easily share hefty files. The amount you can shift depends on which of Dropbox’s two tiers you use: free or paid. The free version can manage up to 2 GB; for anything larger (up to 1 TB), you must pay $9.99 a month. It also depends whether you’re uploading files to Dropbox using a web browser (20GB maximum file size), the desktop clients for Windows or macOS (no file size limits), or the mobile apps for iOS and Android (again, no file size limits).
Once you’ve uploaded a file to your Dropbox, you can share it with another person by clicking the Share button beside it in the web interface. If you’re using a desktop client, right-click on it to share; if you’re using a phone app, tap the drop-down arrow next to that file to open a menu that lets you share it. To set the data’s destination, enter a name from your contact list or manually type an email address. The recipient gets a link they can use to download the file, and he or she doesn’t need to have a Dropbox account to access it. For proprietary files, you can make these shared links password-protected, or set them to expire at a certain time, via the Link settings option.
Dropbox is particularly easy to use if you want to share a big file between two of your own computers. Just install the Dropbox client on both of the machines and then add the file to your Dropbox: It will sync to both computers automatically.
Google Drive works a lot like Dropbox, though this time you get 15 GB of free space across Drive, Gmail, and Google’s other apps. If that’s not enough for your needs, you can upgrade to 100 GB for $1.99 a month, 1 TB for $9.99 a month, or a whopping 10 TB for $99.99 a month. Even if you choose the most expensive option, the largest file you can move maxes out at 5 TB, no matter how you upload it. Again, you can go through your web browser, a desktop application, or a mobile app.
To move something through the web interface, select a file and then click the Share button (a silhouette with a plus symbol) to send it to another person; simply enter the person’s name (if they’re in your contacts) or email address. The recipient gets a link to download the file, with no need to install or sign up for Google Drive (although they’ll need their own Google account if you want them to edit or collaborate on a shared document). On a desktop client, find a file in your Google Drive folder, right-click (or Ctrl+click) on it, then choose the Share with Google Drive option. On the Windows desktop client, the menu doesn’t include a Share with Google Drive option: Instead, you have to choose the Google Drive option, which will open up another menu where you can select Share. In the mobile apps for iOS and Android, tap the three dots to the side of any file to share it.
As with Dropbox, you can install the desktop application for Google Drive on two computers to easily share a file between the two machines: Simply sign into your Google account in both places and make sure the folder containing the file syncs.
If you want to share a file without creating a Dropbox or Google account, and your file is less than 1 GB in size, then Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, has you covered. Mozilla’s experimental new Send service lets any browser, not just Firefox, turn large files into shareable links.
To use it, open the Send webpage in any browser and either drag the file you want to share onto the window or click the Select a file button. Send will upload and encrypt your data, so it can’t be read in transit, and then give you a link you can share via social media or email. These links will expire as soon as the recipient downloads the shared file or after 24 hours pass. If someone compromises the link, you can also manually delete the file from the browser page to prevent anyone from accessing it. Send may be basic, but it’s simple, fast, and most important, it works.
WeTransfer also falls into the basic-free-and-fast camp, at least if you want to send files smaller than 2 GB. For $10 a month, you can upgrade to WeTransfer Plus, which sends up to 20 GB of data at once, password-protects the shared files, and sets expiration dates on the download links.
This service works much like Mozilla Send: Navigate to the WeTransfer website in your browser, agree to the terms and conditions, and then select the files you want to share, and WeTransfer will turn them into a shareable link. To choose between sending an email with that link, or just copying and pasting it somewhere else, click the button with the three dots. The link’s recipients can click it to trigger the download, no sign-up or sign-in required.
Some file-sharing options come built right into your desktop operating system. First up is OneDrive, which you’ll find on Windows machines. Unfortunately Microsoft only gives you 5 GB of OneDrive space for free. If you’re going to be using more than that, you need to start paying for a monthly subscription. Prices start at $1.99 a month for 50 GB. For the paid service, files can be up to 10 GB in size.
Launch File Explorer and head down to your OneDrive folder. When you right-click on a file, you’ll see a Share a OneDrive link option. This generates a shareable link and copies it to the clipboard. You can then paste it somewhere else, like an email. Once the recipient opens the link in a browser, they can view and download the file whether or not they have a OneDrive account. If you’re away from your main computer you can do your sharing through OneDrive on the web: Select the relevant file using the tick boxes, and then click Share. The web interface actually gives you a few extra settings, like the option to set an expiration date for the link.
Finally, there’s iCloud, now baked right into macOS. To take advantage of its sharing abilities, first make sure to upload your desktop and documents folders to iCloud: Open System Preferences, then iCloud, and click Options next to iCloud Drive. This ensures you can share any file in those folders and their subfolders. The maximum file size that iCloud Drive supports is a massive 50 GB, but you only get 5 GB of storage for free—upgrade plans start at $0.99 a month for 50 GB.
To share items, Ctrl+click on a file in Finder, choose Share, and then pick Add People. You can send out a link via email or copy it to the clipboard—but to access it, the link’s recipients need an iCloud account. In this respect, Apple lags behind its rivals. Though iCloud has less ease-of-use and file sharing flexibility, the service regularly receives new features and improvements. Plus, it does have the benefit of being built right into macOS, so you don’t need to install another application or open up a web browser to use it.