Last updated: December 23, 2020
What is File Hosting?
Do you need to host your files online? We're not talking about storage for the files for your website, but rather personal files, documents, image files, and the like. If so, you don't need 'web hosting'; you need file hosting.
File sharing sometimes involves illegal sharing of copyrighted material. Be sure that you have permission to share your file. But there are many other types of file sharing.
What You'll Learn
If you're heavily reliant on large amounts of storage for relevant files, considering this factor during a hosting plan selection is wise. Multiple business models are entirely dependant on the hundreds of gigabytes of brilliant content, often involving hefty storage spaces.
Don't be the unprepared one.
A Brief History of File Hosting
In the early days of the internet, we didn't have the ideas we have now about web pages or dynamically generated content. A 'site' was just a method for storing files; it consisted of a directory of files on someone's computer, which they made publicly available on the network. A homepage was just an indexed listing of those files.
Since then, the infrastructure of the web has changed along with the way we use it. Some artifacts remain — the way browsers handle requests, the notion of 'resources' — but we don't tend to think about a website as simply a collection of files. It's a destination, a resource, a dynamic application.
The thing is, for all the changes in the way we use the internet, people still need a simple way to share their files online. Fortunately, new file hosting and storage tools make this easier than ever.
The Difference Between File Hosting and File Sharing
Some of the terms in the file hosting market can be confusing to consumers. Thus we should look at the distinction between file hosting and file sharing, and define some other terms you may run into while you're researching options and providers.
File hosting is basically any service that allows you to upload and maintain your own files on someone else's server. Whether they're hosted on a physical server or utilize cloud storage, the effect is the same. You upload your files to the server, and there they stay until you take them off (unless they're removed by the company for some reason).
A file sharing service can be thought of as a type of file hosting. Here, you get not only the right to upload and maintain your files on the company's servers but also the right to send other people a download link. With that download link, these other users can access and download your file for their own use.
A Note About File Deletion
File deletion usually only happens if your account is terminated or if your files are deemed to violate someone else's intellectual property rights.
So, for example, if you upload a file containing copyrighted music to which you do not own the rights or a license, and the copyright holder - the musician or a licensing agency, usually - registers a complaint with your hosting provider, the company can delete the file off its servers.
Hosting Files the Old-Fashioned Way
If you have access to a server connected to the internet (which you do if you have a web hosting account of any kind), you can simply use a single public directory there to hold your files. Upload them via FTP and you can access them from any browser. Assuming you set the read permissions properly, anyone who knows the URL of the directory would have access to them.
If you need to keep those files private, you could make the directory not readable. Then you'd have to use FTP or a similar tool to access them, you wouldn't be able to get to them from a normal browser.
This sounds like a reasonable and inexpensive way to do things, but there are some drawbacks.
Drawbacks of Old-Fashioned File Hosting
Permissioning in this context is a bit crude. It's not easy to decide who specifically gets to see which files if you have a mix of things which you want to be public or private.
There are no built-in sharing features to send file links to people. There's also no syncing capability; it's easy to get version mismatch if you're frequently accessing and editing files from different locations.
Some Plans Disallow File Sharing
Even more problematic, most shared hosting plans and some VPS plans specifically disallow file hosting within your account. The hosting companies set their pricing based on the expectation of someone using an amount of bandwidth and file storage space appropriate to a normal website.
They are not prepared for someone hosting a large number of personal files (especially media files — videos, music, images).
Implications of File Sharing with a Traditional Web Host
You can usually get away with this if it is a small enough number of files. If you are trying to use it as a backup of your own computer's files (or a backup of a website's files and database) you'll usually run afoul of the hosting companies Terms of Service.
Self-Hosted File Sharing Apps
Even if you are on a VPS or Dedicated Server plan that has no restrictions on hosting non-website files, there are still better ways to host and share your documents and media than simply uploading them via FTP.
Features of Self-Hosted Sharing Apps
There are a number of self-hosted Open Source applications that will manage and sync files to multiple computers, provide an easy to use web or desktop interface, and give you access to sharing features such as link-sending, invitations, and fine-grained user permissions.
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Benefits of File Sharing Apps
The benefit of using these apps is that they are completely yours.
You control everything about them. This is good for privacy and ensures you'll always have access to your own things.
On the other hand, this also means more responsibility for setting up and managing your file system.
File Sharing Apps Are NOT a Replacement for Web Hosting
You also still need web hosting, and as mentioned above, and you often cannot use shared hosting plans to run apps like this.
You would need your own VPS account with few restrictions, or your own server. Because of the economics of scale, if you have to pay for space and bandwidth it might be a lot less expensive to use a free or premium subscription service.
Subscription File Hosting Services
Benefits of Subscription File Hosting Services
These services offer you many benefits, including the ability to:
- Upload files to a cloud-based storage system
- Take advantage of the storage system that you don't have to manage or think about; you simply move files into a folder, and things work.
- Set up apps on several systems which sync the files automatically with the central server.
- Access files from a synced folder on any of your devices, or from a web-based interface.
- Manage the sharing and permissions features
These services are often free up to a certain limit, and then require premium plans for high usage. They are often subsidized by ads.
What to Look for in File Sharing and File Hosting Services
Before you investigate potential file hosting or file sharing providers, take a moment to jot down the specific features that are important to you.
Are file hosting services free?
Technically, yes, there are a number of free file hosting and sharing services. The most commonly known ones are Google Drive and Dropbox. However, a free file hosting service will only give you a limited amount of storage space. If you exceed that limit, you will need to purchase more storage space in order to save new files to your host. If you are going to store a high volume of files, or large files, such as audio or video clips, you will likely need to invest in a paid plan to get sufficient storage space.
Top File Sharing Features
Some of the key features many users will want to investigate, in addition to those features mentioned above, include:
- Whether users are given direct access
- Traffic or bandwidth limits
- File expiration policies
- FTP access
- Whether the provider offers a developer API
- Support for file versioning
- Total free GB allotted
- Client-side encryption.
While prioritizing storage space isn't a feature to leave last, all of the above are noteworthy from a practicality point-of-view.
How to Choose a File Hosting Service
It's important to compare companies and plans carefully. By the same token, it's also important to make sure you're comparing features on a similar or equivalent basis.
For example, many companies may offer file hosting and file sharing. However, these companies may provide vastly different configurations of basic features and tools.
Do an In-Depth Comparison
Simply comparing one company to another on the basis of price and total available storage won't tell a potential user very much. Instead, look closely at the targeted user for each provider, as well as the features and pricing.
Security and File Hosting Services
While file-sharing services are undoubtedly useful applications of digital technology, there's also little doubt that they can be used for improper or even illegal purposes.
The government has shut down more than one file sharing site for violating anti-privacy and intellectual property laws.
Risks of File Hosting
In addition, file sharing companies have one primary purpose: to host large quantities of files for secure maintenance and around-the-clock access. That kind of structure offers a lot of conveniences, but it can also create some risk.
The more people who have access to any server, the more you need to worry about security. In the next section, we will discuss the most important security features in a file host.
5 File Hosting Security Features to Look For
The file-sharing industry is expected to balloon in value to over $3 billion in the next few years with a projected rate of growth of over 25%.
With that kind of industry growth, it's still a good idea to look into the security measures your selected file hosting provider offers its users.
It's especially important to be aware of security features when you're dealing with a free file hosting service since those companies typically require less personal information from a user on sign-up.
The top five security features you should look at include:
- Password protection
- File encryption
- Private SSL Certificates
- Protection against malware
- Two-factor authentication
Strong Password Protection
The frontline of digital security for storage and hosting services is the password. Strong passwords are essential to protect your files. Most file hosts require a combination of a unique username and a password. However, some don't.
This usually involves temporary file sharing services. These companies allow a user to upload a file for immediate transmission and digital download. They're not meant for any sort of long-term storage and sharing needs.
So, for example, you can use a password-free site to upload a file of a size that's too large for email - up to 2 GB in some cases - and send it to others. But that site won't allow you to store that file for any length of time.
Your files should ideally be encrypted not only for sharing services but also for cloud storage. So encryption is definitely a feature to check for in any potential file hosting company. Encryption is a significant aspect of digital data security.
The most common encryption format is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). It supports block lengths of either 128, 192, or 256 bits. Utilizing 128-bit AES should make the transfer of your files much more secure. Not many services offer this level of encryption for storage, however.
Private SSL Certificates
It's crucial that your host company provide a secure connection between its server and your web browser while you're accessing your files and working with them. HTTPS is the secure, encrypted version of HTTP or HyperText Transfer Protocol.
Encryption and heightened security are accomplished through a private SSL or Secure Socket Layer certificate. The SSL certificate creates that secure, encrypted connection that keeps your data secure during transmission.
Protection Against Malware and Viruses
It's a fact of modern life on the web that some individuals and websites do not have your best interests in mind. In fact, some can and will attempt to hijack or steal your data, either in a targeted or an indiscriminate fashion.
Fortunately, most file sharing and hosting companies are more ethical. But a few may display deceptive banners or links. Some may simply take you to a spammy website; some, however, may attempt to inject viruses or malware into your system.
Two-factor authorization (TFA) or verification adds an additional layer of protection for your files and data. In addition to a strong password/username combination, TFA-enabled sites send a numeric code to your mobile phone via text message.
When you log in to your file hosting account, you're prompted to enter that code. If that code does not match the one generated by the site's TFA system, you won't be allowed to log in and access your files.
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