Big Files, Not Big Headaches

By Joseph Moran | Posted August 24, 2007

If you've ever tried to send someone a large file as an e-mail attachment, you've probably experienced what I'll call the boomerang effect — the e-mail seems to leave your system OK, but you check back later only to find an notice that delivery of your message failed.

This week we'll take a look at why sending large files via e-mail often fails, and explore several alternatives to the practice.

Although mail servers sometimes block attachments based on the file type (for example, most reject .exe files for security reasons) the inability to deliver one usually means that the message exceeded the size limitations imposed by the recipient's mail provider. Most providers — including ISPs that offer e-mail service — employ such limitations in order to control the amount of server storage space and/or network bandwidth consumed by e-mail.

E-mail size limitations can vary by provider. For example, Comcast, Earthlink, MSN/Hotmail, and Time Warner all impose a 10 MB limit. AOL's limit is 16 MB, and Gmail, Verizon, and Yahoo allow e-mails up to 20 MB in size. Those may seem like big numbers, but you can exceeded the with as as few as a dozen JPEG photos. (Putting them in a ZIP file doesn't do much to reduce their size since JPEG images are already tightly compressed). Often the attachment size allowed is even smaller than the quoted limit, because many mail providers count message text and transport encoding data (which may be several megabytes) toward the limit.

Even if your large file is still small enough to be deliverable via e-mail, you may still want to think twice about sending it that way because large attachments can consume a considerable chunk of the receiver's total mailbox storage space. If he or she doesn't perform regular mailbox housekeeping, your e-mail can cause the storage quota to be exceeded, which will halt all mail delivery to the account until some space is freed up.

You Can Do Better
Luckily, e-mail isn't the only way to send someone a large file. These days there are numerous Web-based services that let you get around attachment size limits by hosting files for you and letting your recipients download them via a browser. Here are a few such services — all can be used free of charge, though they each also have paid versions with extra features and fewer restrictions.

One of the simplest is Senduit. It doesn't require any advance registration and allows you to easily upload a file up to 100 MB in size. After uploading, you get a special URL that you can paste into your e-mail, and that link can be set to automatically expire in anything ranging from one week to a half-hour.

YouSendIt is a similar service that also lets you send up to 100 MB files, but it prompts you for the recipient's e-mail address and will automatically send them a mail message that contains a link to your file. YouSendIt will also allow you to upload your file via a secure SSL-encrypted connection. While you don't have to create an account to use YouSendIt, the service won't let you include a custom subject line and text message with your file unless you do.

MailBigFile is another basic file-sending service with a 100 MB limit. Unlike YouSendIt, MailBigFile does allow you to include a text message with your file without registering with the site, but it doesn't offer secure uploading unless you upgrade to the paid version.

If even 100 MB doesn't cut it for you, check out DropSend, which lets you send files as large as 1 GB. DropSend's free plan does require registration and limits you to five file sends per month. Like MailBigFile, DropSend only offers secure uploading when you use the paid version.

All of these services make it easier to send large files than trying to send them as an e-mail attachment. The downside to services like those mentioned above is that they require you store your file on some unknown server until it gets picked up (though technically, so does e-mail).

If you'd rather not relinquish your file to a third-party, tune in next week when we'll look at some ways to send files without having to upload them somewhere first.

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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