Ways to Access Your Files From Anywhere

Cloud, Remote Access, Remote Desktop, and File-Sharing Solutions

Using a remote file server
Monica & Michael Sweet/Getty Images

If you're part of the growing mobile workforce, having remote access to your files from anywhere means you never have to worry about forgetting something important. You can travel lightly and do business from just about anywhere you have an internet connection.

There are several ways to access your files from the road or remotely control or manage your computer from afar. The method you pick should reflect how you plan to access the files and what you need to use when you're away from your desk.

Cloud Computing - Remote File Servers

Screenshot of Google Drive's My Drive window

To remotely access files from anywhere without having to set up any hardware, turn to cloud computing services, specifically online backup and file syncing web apps. Dedicated file syncing services and applications are specifically designed to keep your most important documents accessible wherever you go.

Apple's iCloud, Microsoft's OneDrive, and Google's Drive provide access, editing, and sharing capabilities wherever you have internet. The basic plans are free and additional storage space is available for a low fee.

Online backup services provide automatic offsite storage of your files and typically allow you to download individual files from a web browser or mobile app. Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan, and BackBlaze are a few to consider.

There are also additional options for free or low-cost backup, including using your webmail or web hosting service to store files online. For example, if you own a website and you want to have access to a handful of files when you're away, make a special folder only you can access on your website. If using email, accessing files remotely is as easy as sending yourself the files in an email message.

Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync automatically mirror a folder or several folders on your computer to their online servers. It's like having a file server in the cloud; you can share files with others and, in some cases, even edit files in your browser and sync with mobile devices.

Remote Desktop Tool

Screenshot of the file transfer utility in TeamViewer

Another way to get your files from anywhere you have Wi-Fi or some other form of internet is to remotely log in to your computer. When you do this, you create a setup that simulates you sitting in front of your desk at home. Anything you can normally get from your computer when you're at your desk is available remotely through a remote desktop tool.

There are lots of subscription-based forms of remote desktop programs but there are also lots of really great free remote access tools that are perfect for most people. You can often not only view your files at home while you're away but also print remote files locally and copy files to and from your home computer.

What's more, is that many remote desktop software programs don't just limit you to connecting to your home computer with another computer. You can also usually use a mobile app, too, making accessing your files remotely as easy as starting an app on your phone or tablet.

NAS Device

Picture of a WD 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS WDBVBZ0040JCH-NESN

If you don't need to remotely control or manage your home computer and only want to be able to access shared files over the internet, you can use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to do so.

A NAS is a mini remote file server that you connect to your home network. They're great for file sharing and backups for multiple computers, and they typically offer remote file access via FTP or your web browser, depending on the device. Popular NAS boxes that let you access your files remotely include Buffalo Linkstation and Apple's Time Capsule.

External Hard Drive

Picture of a Linksys AC1750 Dual-Band Smart Wireless Router

Adding an external hard drive to your existing router — if your router is capable of file sharing — is another way to access your files. Because external hard drives can come in such large sizes, it's really easy to instantly provide terabytes of storage for remote access.

Using an external hard drive connected to your router is slower than a dedicated NAS, but this option may be less expensive if you already have an external drive or compatible router. However, even if you don't already have an external HDD, they're usually pretty inexpensive for the amount of storage you get.

Home Server

Screenshot of the HFS file server program in Windows 10

If you don't want to use a third-party solution, you can set up your own VPN and server. This option is the most expensive and time-consuming to set up — the software usually costs, you have to forward router ports, etc. — but it offers you the most control.

For Macs, macOS Server is one option that makes home or small business networking and remote access easy. There are also many different Linux server options like Ubuntu Server, openSUSE, and Oracle Linux.

There are also HTTP servers that are extremely simple to use and get up and running in no time (HFS is one example of a free remote file server program for Windows and Linux). If you'd rather go with FTP, there are numerous free FTP server programs you can use.