File sharing is more important now than it’s ever been.
Agile project management has taken the corporate world by storm, as collaborative, flexible production within teams has proven to be the hottest business strategy in recent years. At the same time, the number of connected devices that employees and people encounter on a day-to-day basis has increased drastically as the internet of things (IoT) explodes with increasing connectedness for devices across multiple networks.
Why does file sharing — and particularly, file transfer — matter? Connectedness means that not only can we access more data from a multitude of places, but also that we can now work more physically distant from each other with no major dings to productivity.
Technological progress has enabled us to do more, physically farther apart but digitally closer together. We can collaborate efficiently without having to be in the same room (or even in the same city), but it requires us to be able to either access single files via cloud, or transfer files between computers PCs.
What are the easiest ways to transfer files between computers?
- Transfer files through direct file transfer (flash drive, email, network file transfer, SCP/SSH)
- Cloud storage and transfer software
- SFTP (secure fire transfer protocol and MFT (managed file transfer) tools
- File migration software
How to transfer files from PC to PC
Thankfully, there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s here. When it comes to file transfer, you’ve got several options to choose from, all dependent on what you need to transfer, how secure you need the transfer to be, and the priority of the file transfer. All these options can be done on any operating system—Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.—but at points may require different software assistance.
Let’s work through these transfer methods by relative complexity, beginning with the simplest. With each method, we’ve included some of the highest user-rated software by satisfaction on G2 Crowd as examples.
Direct file transfer
Direct file transfer is probably the most vanilla route you can take to getting files from one place to the next. As the name states, direct file transfer involves moving a file directly from one device to another with little to no software intermediation. Some examples of this are:
- Flash drive
- Network file transfer
Now, while flash drives are about as direct as direct can be, they also have the potential to be the most insecure. If the flash drive isn’t properly encrypted or password-protected, and that flash drive falls into the wrong hands, whoever has it now has access to those files. Whoops.
Email has the capacity to be a more secure (and as a basic option that everyone has access to every day, significantly more convenient) option to send a file from one place to another, but email has its own drawbacks. Aside from potential encryption troubles, the elephant in the room in terms of email file transfer is attachment size restrictions. Most email services don’t allow attachments above 10 MB, and while you may not be transferring 1,000-plus pages of text documents, 10 MB is a very small size for media files.
From here, direct file transfer depends on convenience. For two computers that are on the same internal network (e.g., two laptops on the same Wi-Fi network) or proximity (e.g., Bluetooth), network file transfer from one device to another can be very convenient, though somewhat time-consuming. Both devices would need to be visible to each other either on the network or via Bluetooth. Once the devices are discoverable, you can select to transfer a file(s) from your device to another by sharing, copy/pasting, click and dragging, etc. This takes time to complete because you’re copying directly over a network. You can also utilize network drives that all users on a single internet network can store to and retrieve from directly.
SCP/SSH (Secure Copy Protocol/Secure Shell) is the most complicated direct transfer option. Using the shell on your computer (“command prompt” or “cmd” on Windows, “terminal” on Mac OS, “bash” on Linux), connect to the device where the files you need are located. Once there, call the file location and file name, and use a copy command to pull the file. (Yes, this is complicated, and I generally wouldn’t recommend using this method unless you know your way around your computer’s shell.) This isn’t terribly useful at home, but it can be extremely useful for remotely pulling files off of servers.
It should be noted here that most remote desktop software and remote support software come with a built-in file transfer functionality. IT support analysts in particular can find great use for this function, since they’ll be able to move .ini files, .dll files, scripts, and even executables (.exe) from computer to computer to assist in troubleshooting and issue resolution.
The following are recommendations based on the highest user-rated software on G2 Crowd:
- Bomgar Remote Support, 4.7 out of 5.0 stars
- ConnectWise Control, 4.7 out of 5.0 stars
- Remote Desktop Services, 4.3 out of 5.0 stars
- TeamViewer, 4.5 out of 5.0 stars
- VNC Connect, 4.7 out of 5.0 stars
- Zoho Assist, 4.6 out of 5.0 stars
Cloud storage and transfer
The advent of cloud computing and cloud storage has made it significantly easier to both store and access files wherever you need them. Because of this, it’s also significantly easier to transfer files from one place to another using a cloud intermediary. This has become so prevalent that you’re probably already well familiar with cloud storage and transfer options such as these:
- Apple iCloud, 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
- Box, 4.2 out of 5.0 stars
- Dropbox, 4.4 out of 5.0 stars
- Google Drive, 4.6 out of 5.0 stars
- Microsoft OneDrive for Business, 4.1 out of 5.0 stars
- Sharefile, 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Cloud storage is prevalent, and has now been adopted by numerous businesses to make file access and sharing simpler. Once a file is saved to cloud file storage and sharing software, there’s usually a way to either transfer the file directly to another user or to send another user a URL they can use to download the file. This is a quick, easy way to transfer files from one place to another, but it comes with a slight bottleneck: Most cloud storage and transfer solutions have storage limits unless you upgrade your subscription. So, if you’re looking to store and move huge volumes of data, check around to find the best bang for your buck.
TIP: For a local network alternative to cloud storage, learn how to map a network drive on Windows 10 and Mac OS X.
As someone who used to work in health care IT, I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely critical secure and encrypted file transfer can be. When sharing sensitive information — such as PHI (protected health information), PII (personally identifiable information; e.g., your SSN), or financial information — as a part of a file(s), I highly, highly recommend using some sort of secure file transfer protocol, or SFTP. This is a kind of highly secure file transfer method called managed file transfer or MFT.
MFT is built off of FTP (file transfer protocol), a kind of direct file transfer method. I’ve separated this into its own category, though, because it’s more involved and significantly more protected than standard direct file transfer. As such, SFTP and MFT are go-to picks for any heavily regulated industry like healthcare or finance. Especially, if you are in the European Union, MFT is great for helping your company maintain GDPR compliance.
SFTP and other MFT tools are particularly useful for pulling down information from data servers and archives, but they’re also useful for transferring files securely from one site to another, or one business network to another. An example of this, from personal past experience, is transmitting PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) data from a health care provider to the PACS provider or vice versa. This kind of transfer is significantly more secure through STFP and/or MFT. These tools can also be applied to financial industry data, legal industry data, and other confidentiality-based industries’ data. EDI software, including the following, can serve a similar function in this regard:
- Cleo Integration Cloud, 4.4 out of 5.0 stars
- GlobalSCAPE Enhanced File Transfer, 4.2 out of 5.0 stars
- GoAnywhere MFT, 4.8 out of 5.0 stars
- ipswitch MOVEit, 4.1 out of 5.0 stars
- Oracle Managed File Transfer Cloud Service (Oracle MFT CS), 4.2 out of 5.0 stars
Unlike other file transfer methods, file migration software tends to be used for a more specific purpose. File migrations are generally large-scale, enterprise-level file relocations. That is, you’re transferring more than just a few files from one computer to another — you’re relocating the entirety of your company’s files from one storage location to another.
To accomplish this (usually mammoth) task, file transfer has to not only be secure but also be able to handle massive amounts of data. File migration is usually measured not in MBs or GBs, but in TBs or PBs of data, since the data managed is company-wide and not at an individual level.
Important to note is that file migration tools tend to care about the kind of file formats they migrate. While some file migration tools (namely in the cloud migration software realm) don’t necessarily aim for a specific software class (e.g., enterprise content management (ECM) software), some may specialize in a certain type of data like email, or even data on a specific software tool like SharePoint. Keep in mind the extent of your needs before investing in a file migration tool like one of these:
- Carbonite, 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
- Cloud FastPath, 4.8 out of 5.0 stars
- Cloudsfer, 4.8 out of 5.0 stars
- Quest Software, 4.7 out of 5.0 stars
- Sharegate, 4.8 out of 5.0 stars
File transfer can serve a variety of purposes, but might not always be the right tool for the job.
If your needs are more towards major device replication, consider hard drive cloning software as a potentially more suitable solution.