What Is File Sharing and How Do You Do It?

File Sharing Definition and Examples

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File sharing is simply the act of sharing one or more files. A file can exist on your computer for you to use it, but you can also send the file to someone else in the same house, within your company, or literally anywhere else in the world.

Sharing files over a computer network means that you're using a network connection to send the files. This could be a local network like in an office or at home where you share files with other local users, or you can share files over the internet.

You might share files for work or entertainment, or so that you can access your files from anywhere. Below are several file sharing methods that you can use for any reason.

File sharing isn't the same as network sharing. To share a file is to send an image, video, document, etc. to another device like a computer or phone, while network sharing means to share a network connection so that nearby devices can access network resources using your device. There are several programs you can use to share your internet connection.

Types of File Sharing

There are two fundamental ways to share files over a network: directly between two computers and between your computer and a server.

The server method sends the file to a server, from where you can then share it with someone else who downloads it directly from that server. In other words, all you do is upload the file to a storage area that will keep it for you, and then whoever wants the file can download it from that server.

Another way to share a file over a network is to send it directly to the other person. This is often called peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and works by communicating directly with the other person's device, with no servers involved.

How to Share Individual Files and Folders

There are several ways to share files over a network, and while some methods are easier than others, they all work very similarly.

With a File Transfer Tool

ShareDrop sharing files with other computers
ShareDrop.

An on-demand file transfer program might be one of the quickest ways to share files over any network, whether it's the internet with someone in another country or a local network between two computers in the office. You usually don't need a user account to use these types of file sharing tools, and the directions are often super straightforward.

FTP is one example that involves setting up an FTP server on the computer that has the files to share. Anyone wanting the files needs to use an FTP client to communicate with the server to download them.

There are also peer-to-peer (P2P) tools you can use for file sharing, such as ShareDrop. With this file sharing tool, you just need to share special URL with whoever you want to download your files, and then choose what to share from your computer to start the P2P transfer.

Takeafile and JustBeamIt are similar services that let you share files over the internet between two computers. You can also utilize torrents.

From a Cloud Storage Service

Google Drive Share With Others prompt
Google Drive.

Similar to peer-to-peer file sharing is a cloud storage service. However, instead of sending the file directly to the other person, you're sending it somewhere else first, namely a server that will store the file. Once the file is stored in the cloud (online), others can download the file from there.

Cloud storage services are beneficial because they typically offer really high speeds for the people downloading the files, speeds a normal user like yourself might not be able to support (P2P file sharing speeds are capped by your upload bandwidth).

An online file storage website is also useful if you plan to share the same file with multiple people, or if you want to share the file with someone in the future but would rather not re-upload it. The file is stored in your cloud file storage account for as long as you want it to be.

Beyond the cloud storage services in the list above are temporary cloud storage services, which are really similar but they only keep your files for a few hours or days. Firefox Send, WeTransfer, and WeSendit.com are a few examples.

Over a Messaging Application

Slack Upload a file prompt
Slack.

Another popular way to share files between computers is with a messaging app. Email and texting are two methods but there are several others. Just look for a file selector button you can us to choose which files to share.

Some apps you might already use that support file sharing include Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, and Skype. Many are even web-based messaging services, meaning that you can share files without needing to install anything.

Using Your Operating System

Map network drive options in Windows 10

Another way to share files over a network is with your operating system. There are often tools built-in to the OS that can do it, although this method is usually only beneficial for sharing files over the local network only.

For example, a mapped drive is an easy way to set up a file sharing network in Windows. What this does is allows you to download files directly from another computer that set up a network share.

You can also set up file sharing on a Mac and other operating systems.

Sharing a Whole Computer

To share a computer over the network means to share literally every single file and folder on it. This isn't something you can do with a P2P file transfer service, cloud storage service, or messaging app. Those methods have you pick specific files to share, so you need a completely different solution to share the entire computer.

For example, computer file sharing in Windows can be done by enabling the admin$ share so that anyone on the local network that knows the admin's password can access every single file on the computer.

Admin share in Windows 10

Another way to share access to all the computer files is with a remote access program. These tools work very differently than a typical file sharing utility because instead of sharing the actual files, you're sharing just the computer screen.

AnyDesk in Windows 8
AnyDesk.

For example, you could install a free remote access program on your work computer and then access it from home. When you log in to the work computer remotely, you're viewing the computer as if you were sitting right there in front of it, which means you're sharing the programs as well as the files, and everything else on the computer.