What Are File Size Limits?

What does it mean when a cloud backup service limits file size?

When an online backup service says it "limits file size" or has some kind of "file size limit," it means individual files over a certain size aren't allowed to be backed up.

For example, say you have a folder called Videos of Emma that's full of MP4 files of your little girl, which you've been copying from your digital camera to your computer's hard drive.

Being one of your most important and irreplaceable collections of digital things, you want to make sure they're backed up with everything else you're backing up to your online backup provider. Naturally, then, you've selected the Videos of Emma folder to be backed up.

Unfortunately, if the file size limit with your cloud backup plan is listed at 1 GB, your three big videos of Emma, at 1.2 GB, 2 GB, and 2.2 GB, won't be backed up, even if they're selected to be.

Man holding giant folder with files
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Don't confuse file size limits with the overall limits, or lack thereof, in an online backup plan. For example, a plan might allow an unlimited amount of total backup space but cap individual files at 2 GB. It's that individual file cap we're talking about here.

Is It Good or Bad to Have a File Size Limit in a Cloud Backup Plan?

We wouldn't say there's anything good about a file size limit, especially in a world where files get bigger and bigger all the time.

The only potential upside is the possibility that enforcing that kind of cap is saving the cloud backup service some money, which they pass on to you in the form of an inexpensive service. But frankly, that's probably not happening.

Fortunately, most online backup providers that do limit individual file size do so only with really large files, usually files that are at least several gigabytes in size like ripped movies, large ISO files or other disc images, etc. If you don't now, nor ever will, need to back up files like that, then choosing a cloud backup service with a file size limit might not be a big deal.

Some cloud backup services also have file type restrictions, which is something else you should understand, especially if you have a number of home movies, virtual machines, or disc images you'd like to back up.

Why Do Some Online Backup Services Have a File Size Limit?

Sometimes a cloud backup service's file size limit is a consequence of poorly developed software, meaning the software the service provided you that's doing the backing up to their servers simply can't handle really large files.

Usually, an online backup plan that enforces a maximum size for individual files does so to save money. But it's doubtful that you benefit from that in any way.

Luckily, file size limits are becoming less and less common among online backup providers. The very best cloud backup plans don't limit file size and are at least as affordable as the ones that still do enforce an individual file size cap.

Can You Bypass an Online Backup Service's File Size Limit?

Short of hacking the client software (which we do not recommend), the best way to make your files work with a file size limitation is to compress the files. However, this will work only if the file is just over the limit.

You can compress your files into a ZIP archive to lower the overall size, but it doesn't work well for everything. Attempting to compress a 50 GB movie file down to your plan's 1 GB file size limit, for example, is simply not going to work.

For additional discussion on this topic, as well as more on the sort of restrictions that some providers have, see our Online Backup FAQ.

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