File Sharing

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What Does File Sharing Mean?

File sharing is the practice of sharing or offering access to digital information or resources, including documents, multimedia (audio/video), graphics, computer programs, images and e-books. It is the private or public distribution of data or resources in a network with different levels of sharing privileges.


File sharing can be done using several methods. The most common techniques for file storage, distribution and transmission include the following:

  • Removable storage devices
  • Centralized file hosting server installations on networks
  • World Wide Web-oriented hyperlinked documents
  • Distributed peer-to-peer networks

Techopedia Explains File Sharing

File sharing is a multipurpose computer service feature that evolved from removable media via network protocols, such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Beginning in the 1990s, many remote file-sharing mechanisms were introduced, including FTP, hotline and Internet relay chat (IRC).

Operating systems also provide file-sharing methods, such as network file sharing (NFS). Most file-sharing tasks use two basic sets of network criteria, as follows:

  • Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing: This is the most popular, but controversial, method of file sharing because of the use of peer-to-peer software. Network computer users locate shared data with third-party software. P2P file sharing allows users to directly access, download and edit files. Some third-party software facilitates P2P sharing by collecting and segmenting large files into smaller pieces.
  • File Hosting Services: This P2P file-sharing alternative provides a broad selection of popular online material. These services are quite often used with Internet collaboration methods, including email, blogs, forums, or other mediums, where direct download links from the file hosting services can be included. These service websites usually host files to enable users to download them.

Once users download or make use of a file using a file-sharing network, their computer also becomes a part of that network, allowing other users to download files from the user’s computer. File sharing is generally illegal, with the exception of sharing material that is not copyrighted or proprietary. Another issue with file-sharing applications is the problem of spyware or adware, as some file-sharing websites have placed spyware programs in their websites. These spyware programs are often installed on users’ computers without their consent and awareness.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.