Ways to Access Your Files From Anywhere

Cloud, remote access, remote desktop, and file-sharing solutions

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, remotely control your computer, or manage your computer from wherever you are. The method you choose depends on 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

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 designed to keep your most important documents accessible wherever you go.

Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google 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.

Screenshot of Google Drive's My Drive window

Online backup services provide automatic offsite storage of 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 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 access to a handful of files when you're away, make a special folder on your website that only you can access. 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, edit files in a browser and sync with mobile devices.

Remote Desktop Tool

Another way to get files from anywhere there is 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 PC 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 several subscription-based forms of remote desktop programs but there are also some free remote access tools that are perfect for most people. You can view your files at home while you're away, print remote files locally, and copy files to and from your home computer.

Screenshot of the file transfer utility in TeamViewer

Many remote desktop software programs don't limit you to connecting to your home computer with another computer. You can also use a mobile app that makes accessing your files remotely as easy as starting an app on your phone or tablet.

NAS Device

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

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

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

External Hard Drive

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

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

Picture of a Linksys AC1750 Dual-Band Smart Wireless Router
Amazon

Home Server

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

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

There are also HTTP servers that are simple to use and set up 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.

Screenshot of the HFS file server program in Windows 10