NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2005
How to Transfer Large Files Over the Internet
by Gary Bentley,
Editor, Southwest International Personal Computer Club Throughput
editor@swipcc.org (click to email author)

I frequently see people having problems trying to transfer large files over the Internet by attaching the file(s) to email. Though the speed of Internet connections available to many users is increasing (more broadband available now rather than slow dialup) and the size of Internet email boxes is probably larger now than in the past (Internet Service Providers have limits both on the total amount of email you can have in your storage area, as well as the maximum size of a particular transmission), the general view is still that mail attachments are not really intended to be a substitute for file transfer when dealing with large files. Another factor is that virus scanners examining incoming or outgoing huge attachements may cause your email client (your email program, e.g., Outlook Express, Eudora) to time out, believing that the email server has disconnected.

What’s a “large” file? It depends on whose server (your ISP) you are using (and whose server your recipient is using). Personally, I consider anything approaching 1 MB (megabyte) too large for email attachment. Albert Einstein’s last university employer, The Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, agrees on the 1 MB limit. An amusing article by Tony Bove advises that “if the file is over four [4 MB], it won’t go through the door.” So, what methods should you use to transfer large files remotely? The IAS advises (as have I for some years) you post the files to a website or an FTP server so the recipient can download them (or send them a CD, but this is too slow and cumbersome for most applications).

Before I discuss how to post files to a website or FTP area, I should mention that there is another alternative, simple and free (for now). YouSendIt, http://http://www.yousendit.com , is a free service on the web that lets you upload up to 1 GB (yes, 1 Gigabyte!) files. [See screen shot below.]They then send an email to your intended recipient (with no attachment!) giving them a hyperlink where they can download the file at their convenience. I tested this service today and it works as advertised (there is at least one other outfit offering this service, but I didn’t like the amount of initial advertising that popped up on entry to the site).

Below is the email YouSendIt sent telling me someone (me) had sent me a large file to download and the link to go get it. To the right is the web page and dialog that occured when I clicked on the emailed link.

What about putting your file up on a website somewhere and then sending a link to the site to your recipient? Most ISP’s give their customers a considerable amount of Internet server storage space on which to put up their own web sites, transfer files, share photos, etc. If you have Microsoft FrontPage (see Bill Roush’s review in this issue of Throughput), you can easily put a large file up on the Internet for download by others. I used FronPage 2002 in the example below, but the process would be similar with the latest version.

Assuming you have a host for your site (either provided by your ISP or purchased from a vendor), you have FrontPage and have created a simple website with just the single page shown below, you can use that to easily put large files up on the Internet and then allow people to download them from your site.

Above you see the folder view from FrontPage for that little website we created on the previous page of this article. You can see the icons on the left column that give you the various views of the site in FrontPage. We were initially looking at a particular web page (fxfrpg.htm) in the web site in page view. Now we are in folder view and can see all the pages and possibly sub-folder in the website. In the little window to the lower right above, you are seeing an open window on my computer showing an open folder with a file (FrontPage_2003.doc) that I propose to send up to the Internet to our website so that I can make it available for folks to download without having to send it as a huge email attachment (actually this file is only about 384 KB, but it serves for an example). I should note that I have our little website open “live” in FrontPage, i.e., I am connected to the Internet and FrontPage actually has the website open where it can be modified directly in real time (sometimes people work on a copy of the website on their own computer then “publish” the changes up to the Internet later--we’re not doing that here, but rather are acting immediately on the actual Internet site). All we have to do now to get the file up to the Internet is just put the mouse cursor on “FrontPage_2003.doc” (you don’t see the file extension, “.doc” above--that is because Windows normally hides known file extensions so you don’t accidentally rename the file and destroy the extension, making the file inaccessible to Windows without help), hold down the left mouse button and drag the file into the FrontPage window! FrontPage takes care of everything else and the file will magically appear in the website list of files just as soon as it has been transmitted (may take a while if this is a large file and a slow connection).

See the file now has been sent up to the Internet and appears in our live display in FrontPage below (the file “FrontPage_2003.doc)?

Now we just need to insert a link to the file on our main page, using Insert --> Hyperlink (below):

...and the Insert Hyperlink dialog that pops up in FrontPage lets us just click on the file we just uploaded and FrontPage kindly inserts a hyperlink to the file on our web page (the page you are looking at to the left here).

And below you see our webpage fxfrpag.htm with the hyperlink (“Frontpage_2003” in blue) that will let a visitor download the file we just put up on the Internet so easily.

All you would have to do now is send an email to your intended recipient and give them the address of the web page above, which is http://launionfarm.com/swipccdemo/fxfrpg.htm in the example. When they copy and paste this address into their browser (or just click on it in the email with most email programs) and visit the site they will see that page above and can click on the the “FrontPage_2003” link to download the file.

Well, I had intended to discuss the use of FTP file transfer techniques also, but this article has grown long and I would guess your patience for further discussion has grown correspondingly short. I will, however, give you a few screen shots of FTP programs in use (next page) just to give you an idea of what that method of file transfer would look like. You should keep in mind that the underlying concept is always the same, i.e., you have a computer and you want to send files to, or get files from, another computer that is geographically remote from your own. The protocol is just the agreed-upon way that the two computers talk to one another over the communications channel (the Internet in our case) to get that job done. When you do this kind of thing using a browser you are using hypertext transfer protocol typically (http, look familiar?). When you use an FTP program you are using the file transfer protocol. Email uses still different protocols, SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) to send email and POP3 (post office protocol) to retrieve it.

The screen shot to the left is from an FTP session using a program called FTP Explorer. Basically you open the program and provide the Internet address of your server, your logon name and password, and then you connect and see a typical Windows style folder and file list of the contents of the remote computer. Some of these FTP programs support drag and drop file transfer. With this one I would use the upload or download command to send or receive files.

If you have true geek credentials and/or a long history in the use of computer you could always use the Windows XP ftp command line program that runs from an XP command window. The concepts are the same, i.e., you specifiy the Internet address of a remote computer, give a user name and password (I’ll forgo discussion of open FTP sites and annonymous logins), establish a connection, then execute commands to put (send) or get (receive) files to or from the remote computer.

To the right you see me invoking the XP ftp program from within an XP cmd window.

To the left you see me logging in, i.e. providing my user name to the remote server I just opened in the previous line command (“open”).

To the left you see me preparing to execute the command to send the file “testFile.txt” from my computer to the remote server.

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