Network File Transfer

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What Does Network File Transfer Mean?

A network file transfer (NFT) is the process of sending or receiving files or data over a local or global network (such as the internet) using the network’s native transfer protocol and technical and digital infrastructure.


The network allows for automatic and in-time communication between different parts of one or multiple interconnected networks instead of physically transferring the files or data through an external storage unit such as a USB stick or a hard drive.

Editor's Note: NFT also stands for Non-Fungible Token, computer code that represents ownership of a virtual item.

Techopedia Explains Network File Transfer

The NFT process differs depending on the type and size of data, the technical infrastructure available and connection speeds, and the transfer protocol or protocols the networks in question support. Mainly, the connection between multiple devices in a single network is governed by the protocol used to transfer the data, which range from HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP on the open internet to Ethernet connection in small networks in small office spaces.

While the role of the connecting route remains mostly static, the node, or the device at an end of the network varies depending on its relation to the moving data. If the data flow is incoming, the device is downloading, whereas if the data flow is outgoing, the device is uploading. NFT differs in its infrastructure needs depending on the demand for the data. If the transfer is on-demand, the transfer is almost immediate and can be done between any devices that share a connection whether it is a local network or through the open internet.

But for the files to be available for one or more devices at different times without the devices being marked as ‘downloading’ immediately the network uses a P2P (Peer-to-Peer) file-sharing system. In P2P, there is a server that intercepts the sent files and downloads them, allowing other devices authorized access to the data. One example of P2P file sharing is commercial cloud storage services.

NFT started in the 1970s, when alternatives to the limited capabilities of the floppy disk were highly needed. Usenet was the first online file-sharing platform to allow users to transfer files remotely. But it was not until the mid-1980s that the first communication protocol, FTP, was established. It connected multiple devices within any network as long as it had suitable infrastructure. The introduction of the internet in the 1990s witnessed the birth of multiple file-sharing platforms and file transfer protocols such as AOL’s (America Online) file transfer service, Napster, Gnutella, and Freenet, to today’s modern file-sharing cloud storage systems like Dropbox and iCloud.

Since modern NFT is a method of transferring files and data digitally from one device to the next, there needs to be a way for the devices—or in this case, nodes—to communicate with one another to send and request files. An NFT process is initiated in two ways: a pull-based transfer and a push-based transfer.

In a pull-based transfer, the downloading node is the party that initiates the data transfer. This approach is usually paired with P2P file sharing, where the data or files sit static in a neutral server, ready to be downloaded. With the push-based transfer, on the other hand, the data transfer is initiated by the uploading node. This type of transfer can be applied with on-demand file transfer or when uploading files to a shared server.

An essential part of most modern data transfer protocols is strong yet fast and efficient encryption. While the data is being transferred, it can be intercepted by an unauthorized third party. An encrypted transfer connection between nodes means the data is broken down and mixed up beyond recognition according to a mathematical algorithm, but only during the transportation. The transfer protocol reassembles the data to its original state as soon as it reaches the receiving node.

The NFT process is also dictated by the role the connection protocol plays in the transfer. During a transparent data transfer, the user does not get notified of the connection or data transfer between nodes. Alternatively, explicit file and data transfer requires the protocol to communicate directly with the end node to request data, such as when a user requests a specific website using a URL through HTTP and HTTPS protocols. In both scenarios, the transfer protocol runs the communication between the nodes, leaving the users out of the details of the encounter.


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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.