Tech – for Everyone

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

How to send big files (updated)

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 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 annoyed with 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 can 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’.
11.jpg
Now a new folder will appear next to your document, and it will have a zippered folder icon.
2.jpg
In my example, the folder’s name is ‘scam.zip’, 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 one thousand twenty-four 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 (generated) 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 of 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 (mail client/browser) 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.

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 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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March 8, 2008 - Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, Simple File Sharing, tech | , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Paul,

    I generally agree. However, rather than “Solution #2,” I would offer:

    Solution #3

    Use a service such as LogMeIn (http://www.logmein.com) to send a secure link to the zipped file. Of course, when you e-mail the link, you will potentially be exposing it to others in addition to your intended recipient. However, you can password-protect the zipped file or, if desired, a file that is not zipped. I find that zipping multiple files and then sending a link via LogMeIn works very well. There are likely other services besides LogMeIn, but we really like using LogMeIn and also use it for secure remote control, drag-and-drop remote access to files, and more.

    Like

    Comment by Jason E. Havens | April 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. Paul,

    Please also add that LogMeIn Pro offers a contextual (right-click) menu to share the particular zipped or unzipped/normal file, similar to “Send to Mail Recipient.” I am not affiliated in any way with LogMeIn — simply a very satisfied user. Citrix (GoToMyPC) might offer these services as well, but I do not know and do believe that their subscription prices are higher than LogMeIn.

    Like

    Comment by Jason E. Havens | April 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. Folks–
    The two applications Mr. Havens mentions are very similar to the tool I use to repair a client’s computers remotely (over the Internet). They are primarily used to access your home computer from anywhere (as if you were sitting at it) which can be very, very handy… especially if you must do a lot of traveling.

    Mr. Havens–
    Thank you for reminding me of an overdue topic.

    Like

    Comment by techpaul | April 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. You have also the french service named Nextsend on http://www.nextsend.com/ . Very serious and professionnal

    Like

    Comment by Christophe | April 29, 2008 | Reply


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