What Is File Sharing Software and How Does It Work?

The widespread availability of powerful computers and digital technology has dramatically increased both the number and size of computer files that people use. This holds in personal and professional settings.

Consider the ability of smartphones and tablets to take or record high-definition pictures and video. Businesses often work with large databases of financial transactions or in customer relationship management software.

Just as importantly, people and businesses increasingly need file-sharing software to send these files to each other. Sometimes that sharing happens in the same office. Sometimes, that sharing means sharing with someone across the planet.

If you routinely need to share files, keep reading for our guide about file sharing methods and how they work.

Cloud-Based File Sharing

One of the most widely used types of file sharing is cloud-based file sharing. These systems let someone share files with anyone who has internet access, assuming their connection has sufficient bandwidth to download the file.

Businesses routinely use these systems for collaboration between colleagues who may not work in the same office. An option that is much more important now that so many people work remotely. This can speed up projects and limit problems with version control on important documents.

Non-business users can also use these systems as a way to store and share pictures, videos, and even documents.

How Does Cloud-Based Sharing Work?

The precise details vary from system to system, but the essentials of cloud-based file sharing work as follows. You upload a file to a cloud server. Once you upload the file, you can invite others to view, download, or edit the file with an invitation link or by authorizing their email.

System Local Sharing

System local sharing comes as an option with operating systems such as Windows or MacOS. Households or businesses share files between computers or peripheral devices on the same local network. For example, you might send your spouse a movie file that is only stored on your laptop for their use.

You can also use these local sharing systems to do things like send files to a printer.

How Does System Local Sharing Work?

In system local sharing, your computer takes a file on its system and uses sends it through your internet router to another computer. This only works when both computers are connected to the same network at the same time.

So, one person in an office can route a file directly from their desktop to another desktop in the same office.

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

Courtesy of systems like Napster in the early 2000s, peer-to-peep is probably the most infamous of file-sharing methods. Instead of one person sharing individual files with one other person or a small team, peer-to-peer file sharing lets large groups of people collectively share large groups of files.

In the case of Napster, tens of millions of users used the system to share entire music albums. While this is the most widely recognized and illicit use of peer-to-peer sharing, it also has legitimate uses.

Peer-to-peer sharing can let people share large files without burning through all of their available bandwidth. For example, scientists working with big data sets could make the file available to other scientists or the public through a peer-to-peer system.

How Does Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Work?

Peer-to-peer sharing typically works through a bit torrent program. These programs carve up the original files into much smaller pieces that download faster. Anyone who has parts or all of a file and is logged into the program functions as a seeder.

Someone who wants the file and is also logged into the program can download pieces of the file from any seeder. When you have all of the pieces downloaded, the program essentially assembles all of the pieces back into the original file type.

Of course, peer-to-peer systems depend on people staying logged into the system to make the files available. The systems can also prove buggy. Downloads may simply stop for no apparent reason, but resources can potentially help you resolve issues like that.

Client-Server File Sharing

Anyone who has ever visited a website has used a client-server file-sharing system. Websites are probably one of the most common uses for this file-sharing approach.

In essence, these systems provide files from a server when someone — a client computer — requests them. So, when you visit a website, your computer uses the web browser to ask a server for the website files. You also see this system in action with email systems and file transfer protocol software.

How Does Client-Server File Sharing Work?

In a client-server setup, someone uploads files onto a literal server. In most cases, it is website files. The server stores those files.

Websites operate on a domain, which acts like a digital address that browsers can read. When you click on a website in search results, what you’re doing is giving the browser the right address. The browser follows that address back to the server where the site files are stored.

The browser tells the server that it wants the website files. As long as the request is authentic, the server sends the relevant files back to your browser.

File Sharing Software and You

Odds are good that you already use file-sharing software in one form or another. For most individuals, cloud-based file sharing proves sufficient for most of their needs. The file size limits only stop you from uploading or downloading files of extreme size.

Most businesses can also get by with local system sharing or with business-level cloud storage options, which often remove file size limits.

While peer-to-peer sharing has legitimate uses, it’s easy to stray into downloading copyrighted content. So use it cautiously.

Looking for more tech insight or useful tips? Check out our Tech Tips section for more articles.

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