Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

E-mail and large files

I think a lot of e-mail frustration would be avoided if every e-mailer understood a couple of basic technical facts.. which, when translated from Geek-to-English, and boiled-down to simple sentences, reads: “E-mail is NOT the proper way to send large files.” But, e-mail is what everyone uses, and so, a range of problems and errors occur. This article will tell you how to avoid some of those troubles.

I would like to add, here, that the onus of these errors usually lies at the feet of the Sender, and not you– the recipient.. nor your computer. It is not your fault you cannot Open the attachments, or that the Sender’s transmission got garbled (aka “corrupted”).

Let’s look at the problem:
1) email is NOT meant for transferring large files. Not only do large files tie up bandwidth and clog the storage of e-mail servers, they can present a security risk as well. Because of this, Network Administrators deliberately limit the size of emails and email attachments (the typical cutoff is 1 Megabyte) and simply deny this traffic. Routers and relay servers across the landscape (devices over which your e-mail will travel to get to its destination) have similar barriers in place, so… even if your email service allowed files bigger than 1 MB, the file still probably would not reach you or, wouldn’t reach you ‘correctly’.

2) The proper way to send and receive large files is via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). This is a different network ‘language’ than TCP/IP (the ‘language of the Web’, and home networks)… nor is it SMTP/POP3, the email protocols.
Using FTP, however, requires the Sender of the large file to set up his machine as an FTP ‘file server’, and ‘host’ the file for access. The recipient’s computer must request, and download, the file from their ‘server’.
Since we average folk need to send big files so rarely, and configuring FTP is above our pay-grade, very few people actually say to themselves, “Someday I’m going to write a large document.. and then I’m going to want to send that document over the Internet to my friends and co-workers.. so I better learn how to turn my computer into a FTP server and expose it to World Wide Web by giving it a domain name.”  That just doesn’t happen; so, let’s forget about FTP for now.
What does happen is we attach our (large) file to an email, just like we’ve attached a hundred others, and then we get mad at the recipient for not being able to OPEN a simple attachment. “Just click on it”, we tell them.

So now we’ve identified the problem (or.. at least, the most likely problem); we Senders need to keep our files under 1 Megabyte in size if we want to email them.
Solution #1: Use a ‘zip’ compression’ tool, like StuffIt or WinZip to shrink the file (for REALLY big files, you can break the document in half.. or thirds.. which most 3rd-party apps do automatically.)
Windows’ built-in tool is the ‘Compressed Folder’. Right-click your document >Send to >Compressed (zipped) Folder. In the image below, I have just done that to a text file on my Desktop named ‘scam.txt’.
Now a new folder will appear next to your document, and it will have a zippered folder icon.
In my example, the folder’s name is ‘’, and as you can see, the zip file’s size is about half that of the original (*your mileage may vary). Please note: there is no need to do this for that particular file; it is quite small enough to email without compression and this example is only to show the steps.. one Megabyte equals a thousand Kilobytes.
Attach, and send, the zipped folder. (The folder is “self-extracting”: no special tool is needed to open it.)

*About images: the letters that make up your text (the ‘t’, the ‘h’, and the ‘e’ in ‘the’) makes for very small file sizes; it is (typically) graphics/images that make for large files. The factors that determine how large of a file a picture will be are: image size (Ht x Wdth, and dpi), color ‘depth’, image “quality” (really “compression level”), and file format.
Most of these are adjustable by even the most basic of graphics programs (Paint will let you resize, and choose between formats, for example). When sending a picture via e-mail, “tweak” these options and shrink the file size of the image — do you really need to send a 5″x7″ RAW image, or will a 3 x 5 JPEG (set to “Medium”) work just as well? And remember, your viewer’s screen resolution is only 92 dpi.
** Two more image tips: A JPEG is already compressed; putting it into a zipped folder will not shrink it much more..if at all; and, the GIFF format is the best at compression.

Another e-mail limitation to consider is that each element of the email is treated separately. So, if you Attach three pictures, and each picture is, say, right about 0.9 MBs (for a total of 2.7 MBs) it will sail right through the system.
If two are 0.9, and the third is 1.3, the first two will sail through and the third will fail (usually resulting in an error notification to the Sender). The email will look like it sailed thru, it will have three “paperclips”, the recipient will be able to Open the first two pics, and when they go to Open the third, they will probably just see a little box with a red “X” in it.
And while what I said above is generally true, there is another limit to contend with: the total (adding up the attachments) size of the e-mail can’t exceed a certain limit without causing mischief. In Hotmail this “total limit” is 10 Megabytes, though this will vary from provider to provider.
So if the document you want to send is really LARGE, you may want to consider solution #2…

Solution #2: Use a service to ‘upload’ your large document to, and then send the hyperlink to your recipient(s). The hyperlink takes the recipient to the service, and ‘downloads’ your document. (Let the service do all the FTP nonsense.)
There are both for-pay and free versions if these file-transfer services, and those of us who rarely run into the file-too-big dilemma will find the free versions adequate, and they generally can handle files up to a Gigabyte (bigger, for a fee).
I recommend either SendThisFile or TransferBigFiles for their simplicity of use, but there others out there.

If someone has sent you a large file and trying to open it causes your email application to freeze and ‘lock up’, use Task Manager to end the program’s execution (for instructions, click here) with “End Task”. Then re-launch it and delete the file. This should restore normal operation, but you will have to ask the sender to resend the file.. and explain to them email limitations. (Or, maybe, email them a link to this article?)
To read my e-mail troubleshooting article on broken links (clicking on a link produces no result), click here.

[Addenda: I would like to point out that my description of FTP and TCP/IP was a vast over-simplification. For those of you interested in learning about networking, the place to start is with the protocol ‘stack’ TCP/IP, and the 7-layered “OSI model“.]

Today’s free link(s): What? Two isn’t enough? Okay. For those of you who do not have a photo manipulation program with which to make your images more e-mail friendly, the best free tool is IrfanView. This is one of my ‘must have’ downloads, and I have recommended it here before.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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December 10, 2007 - Posted by | advice, computers, how to, networking, PC, Simple File Sharing, tech, Windows | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Your (admittedly appropriate) skim past the geek stuff indicates perhaps you should take your own advice and review the OSI model. FTP is an application layer protocol which relies on TCP/IP (transport layer/network layer) rather than “…a different network ‘language’ than TCP/IP (the ‘language of the Web’, and home networks)… nor is it SMTP/POP3…”

    Am guessing by ‘the language of the web’ you’re referring to HTTP.

    A pedantic comment no doubt – and yourlack of knowledge is not an obstacle to the purpose of this particular post – but if you’re going to represent yourself as an authority, a bit of “edumacation” seems in order.

    another TechPaul


    Comment by Paul | February 22, 2008 | Reply

  2. Paul–
    I am aware of, and somewhat fluent in, the OSI model.
    You are not the first person to comment that my not-for-geeks wording is not as well-written as it could be, and for those folks who have the technical understanding, my use of the word ‘language’ in place of ‘protocol’, and other over-simplifications, can be.. galling.
    For that I apologize– I am just trying make this information accessible to “Everyone”. I could have done it better…

    And, I won’t argue with the merits of further education either.


    Comment by techpaul | February 22, 2008 | Reply

  3. Nice and helpful! I actually use this: and WinZip is the easiest way to send a really big files because it automatically break the document to half or thirds . It is also handy tool for sharing files on Cloud because the compression saves on limited space


    Comment by Tonya Rose | July 13, 2017 | Reply

    • Tonya,
      I’m quite surprised to see a comment posted on a 10 year-old article. (An article that says, “use a compression tool like winzip or a service”.)

      10 years is four generations of technology ago. (Windows Vista was new..) Hopefully, no one is still using (or trying to use) email to send giant files (or share fotos) and has need for a specialized compression tool. The era of winzip is long gone. (Do ppl even use email anymore?)


      Comment by techpaul | July 13, 2017 | Reply

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