How to Create and Use a ZIP File

Here's a handy way to send multiple files via email

Woman using laptop computer in hotel lobby

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The best way to send multiple files over email is to use a ZIP file. ZIP files are like folders in which the contents are compressed to a size appropriate for an email attachment. There are two steps to this process: (1) creating the ZIP file and (2) sending it. You can send it through any email client, whether offline like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, or online like Gmail or Yahoo Mail.

If you frequently try to send large attachments and end up having to create ZIP files to compress them, consider using a cloud storage service instead. These services can usually handle much larger files than what the average email provider supports.

Why Compressing Makes Sense

Most email applications have a limit to how large each message can be, including the body and header, plus any attachments. If you exceed the limit, such as when you send several large attachments at once, you're unable to send the message, or you must send several messages to separate the attachments.

But, if you compress your files into a ZIP file they take up less space, enabling you to still send the files you want with only one email message. Many documents can be compressed to as little as 10% of their original size. As an additional bonus, combining several files into a ZIP file packs them all neatly into a single attachment.

How to Create a ZIP File

There are numerous ways to create a ZIP file, and the process is different for each operating system. Here's one way to create a ZIP file in Windows.

  1. From your desktop, right-click a blank space and choose New > Compressed (zipped) Folder.

    Windows desktop with main menu displayed
  2. Name the ZIP file whatever you like. This name will be seen when you send the ZIP file as an attachment.

    Windows desktop with new ZIP file displayed
  3. Drag and drop the files and/or folders that you want to include in the ZIP file. Items can include text documents, images, videos, music files, or anything else you'd like to send.

    ZIP file folder with contents displayed
  4. The ZIP file is now ready for sending.

Another method for creating ZIP files is to use a file archive program like 7-Zip or PeaZip.

How to Email a ZIP File

Now you can attach the ZIP file to an email message. As creating a ZIP file is a unique process for each system, each email client has its own method for sending them. However, sending a ZIP file via email involves the exact same steps as sending any file over email. So, if you know how to send, for example, a Word document as an attachment, you'll follow the exact same steps to send a ZIP file.

As just one example of specific steps, here's how it's done in Gmail.

  1. Compose your email message as normal. At the bottom of the composition window, select Attach files (the paperclip icon).

    Gmail message with Attach Files button selected
  2. From your hard drive, select the ZIP file.

    Selecting a ZIP file to attach in Gmail
  3. At the bottom of your composition window, you'll see the name of your ZIP file. Select Send.

    Gmail composition window with ZIP file attached
  4. Your recipient will see the ZIP file as a normal attachment.