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File transfer using Dropbox

by Alan German

Transferring a big file such as a video, or several large files such as digital photographs from modern, high-resolution cameras, can be problematic as many mail servers won’t allow large attachments.  A simple workaround is to use the cloud – on-line disk storage – to temporarily store your files and allow others to access them.

One such system is Dropbox (  A free account will provide you with 2 GB of on-line disk storage.  While this is normally quite sufficient for most home users (remember we mentioned the idea of “temporary” file storage?), for those who need more space, a number of plans are available, with monthly billing, to provide increased capacity.


Using the free account is pretty simple.  Your personal file storage area in the cloud is protected by requiring the entry of logon credentials – an E-mail address and a password – that you provide when you set up your account. 

Once you are logged on, you can create a folder, upload a file, and you are ready to share this file with the world.  Well, rather than sharing the file with the whole world, it’s more likely that you want to restrict access to one person, or perhaps a small group of people.  There are several ways to do this.

If you navigate to a Dropbox folder, and hover the mouse over a file name, a “Share” button will be displayed on the right side of the highlighted file information.  Clicking on this button brings up a dialogue box.  You can simply enter someone’s E-mail address, plus an optional message, and press the blue “Share” button.  Your contact will receive a message inviting them to view the file on Dropbox’s server.     


The second method is to create a link to the file which you can then share with other people.  As noted above, selecting a file in a Dropbox folder produces dialogue box.  One of the options in this box is “Create a link”.  When you click on this option, Dropbox creates a hyperlink (URL) to this specific file.  A new option to “Copy link” is  then displayed next to a line of text that reads: “Anyone with the link can view this file”.  Clicking on this option copies the link to the clipboard from where it may be pasted into an E-mail message.  Because the link is rather cryptic – basically a meaningless alphanumeric string – only people to whom you provide the link will be able to view the file.

Another method allows you to share not only a single file in a Dropbox folder, but the folder itself, with all of the included files.  Going to the main menu (by clicking on the “Files” option) displays a list of the folders in your Dropbox account.  Hovering the mouse over any specific folder once again produces a “Share” button, this time for the whole folder.  The main options are as noted above – simply share the folder by sending a message to someone, or create a link to the folder that can be cut and pasted into an E-mail message. 

Now, however, we have a new possibility.  By default, anyone with whom we share the folder will receive “Can edit” authorization.  Such individuals will be able to view, edit, comment on, or delete files in the folder.  They will also be able to add (upload) files to the folder.

This is useful if, for example, we wish to work collaboratively with someone on a Word document.  Our contact can edit the draft document and save the modified file back to the Dropbox folder.  Similarly, we could upload a number of photographs from a trip, and share the folder with another person (or group of people) who were on the same trip.  Because those invited to share the folder have “Can edit” privileges, they are able to upload their photographs of the same event to the Dropbox folder.  In this way, two individuals, or a whole group can share all of the photographs taken on the trip.

The alternative to “Can edit” for a shared folder is “Can view”.  If you opt for this setting then anyone with whom you share the folder can view, download, or comment on any of the files in your folder.  However, they are not allowed to make any modifications to the files in your Dropbox account.  Similarly, they cannot delete any of your files, nor can they add any new files.

We should also note that Dropbox can be accessed either directly on the Internet, by logging on to the web site using a browser, or by using “always-on” client software installed on your computer.  Downloading and installing the Dropbox client provides a “mirror” of the files and folders in your Dropbox account in the cloud to a “Dropbox” folder on the hard drive of your computer.

Better yet, Dropbox will automatically synchronize the two file systems.  It will upload any new or modified files in the local set of Dropbox folders to Dropbox’s web server, and will download any such files from the cloud to your computer.  Similarly, any files that have been deleted from either the cloud or the local hard drive will also be deleted from the counterpart.  All of the files and folders on your hard drive are automatically maintained in sync with their cousins in the cloud.         

So, we can see that Dropbox offers a variety of options for sharing files and folders through the cloud.  The free account has restricted storage, but the 2 GB that is available is pretty generous for most purposes.  And, as noted above, files and folders can always be deleted once they have been transferred to another individual, thus creating free space for additional file sharing.

Finally, it might be worth noting for some users that Dropbox is a multi-platform application.  You can use Dropbox on Windows, Linux, Android and iOS.

Bottom Line:

Dropbox, Inc.

Originally published: April 2018

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