What Is File Sharing and How Do You Do It?

File sharing definition and examples

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File sharing is the act of sharing one or more files. These files exist on your computer and can be sent over a computer network and shared with someone in the same house, a team member at work, a friend in another country, or yourself so that you can access your files from anywhere. Files can be shared over a local network in an office or at home, or you can share files over the internet. Here 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 it to another device such as a computer or phone. Network sharing shares a network connection so that nearby devices can access network resources. There are several programs that share an internet connection.

Types of File Sharing

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

When a file is shared between a computer and a server, the computer uploads the file to a storage area on the server where it can be shared with others. People that want access to the file download it directly from that server.

When a file is shared between two computers over a network, the file is sent 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, all are similar.

With a File Transfer Tool

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

FTP is one example that involves setting up an FTP server on the computer that has the files to share. Anyone that wants the files uses an FTP client to communicate with the server to download the files.

There are also peer-to-peer (P2P) tools for file sharing, such as ShareDrop. With this file-sharing tool, you're provided a special URL that grants access to download your files, and you choose what to share from your computer.

ShareDrop sharing files with other computers

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

From a Cloud Storage Service

Similar to peer-to-peer file sharing is a cloud storage service. However, instead of sending the file directly to the other person, the file is sent to a server that stores the file. Once the file is stored in the cloud (online), others can download the file if they have the link to the file.

Google Drive share with others prompt

Cloud storage services offer high speeds to download files, speeds a normal user might not be able to support (P2P file-sharing speeds are capped by your upload bandwidth).

Use an online file storage website to share the same file with multiple people, or to share a file with someone in the future and not re-upload it. The file is stored in your cloud file storage account for as long as you want.

Along with cloud storage services are temporary cloud storage services, which keep files for a few hours or days. Firefox Send, WeTransfer, and WeSendit.com are a few examples.

Over a Messaging Application

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

Slack Upload a file prompt

Some apps that support file sharing include Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, and Skype. Many are web-based messaging services, meaning that you can share files without installing anything.

Use Your Operating System

Another way to share files over a network is with your computer's 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 a local network.

A mapped drive is an easy way to set up a file-sharing network in Windows. A mapped drive 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.

Map network drive options in Windows 10

Share a Whole Computer

When a computer is shared over a network, every file and folder on the computer is also shared. This isn't something that can be done with a P2P file transfer service, cloud storage service, or messaging app. Those methods have you pick specific files to share, so a different solution is needed 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 password can access every 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 differently than a typical file sharing utility because instead of sharing the actual files, only the computer screen is shared.

AnyDesk in Windows 8

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