The Programming Languages Behind Online File Sharing

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Here we look at some of the most useful languages for developing online file sharing services.

Online file sharing services make file or document sharing simple. From the perspectives of both the content provider and the receiver, content sharing can be done with just a few clicks and drag-and-drop operations. Prominent online file sharing services also promise security of the content. Therefore, it is no wonder that online file sharing services are so popular. It can also be a lucrative niche.

There are many programming languages and technologies available for developing an online file sharing service. If you're planning to develop your own file sharing service, you should choose a programming language based on your knowledge and aptitude. All languages have their advantages and disadvantages. Your choice should also consider your online file sharing project goals such as target audience, file size restrictions and security considerations.

What Is Online File Sharing?

Online file sharing is a service that allows you to upload files such as images, documents, audio and video to the cloud and access them whenever and wherever you want. File sharing services can be meant for all types of files or specific types of files. For example, sites like Picasa and Flickr store only images, while Dropbox provides storage for almost all types of files. You can access your files via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. You can also provide access to the uploaded files to people who do not own the content.

When you upload files to the cloud, the provider of the online file sharing services is the custodian of the files. It is responsible for the security of the files. It also provides a suitable interface – usually a web-based interface accessible via a standard browser – that allows you to upload, access, download and share your files. There are many prominent online file sharing services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and iCloud. Some services are free, while the others are available for a fee. The latter, in most cases, offer limited storage for free; if you want more storage space, you need to pay a subscription fee.

How Does It Work?

Online file sharing systems can be either small or large in their capacity to store files. While some services can offer a relatively small amount of storage, others can offer storage for huge volumes of data. The latter is known as a data center. A data center is ideal for enterprise data storage and sharing. Regardless of its size, all file sharing services must have at least one data server. The data server stores the files and is also responsible for facilitating access, retrieval, syncing, sharing and download operations. To keep the data safe, the same data is stored across multiple data servers, a system known as redundancy. Multiple data servers have different power supplies to prevent data access problems due to power outage.

Online file sharing systems are based on the traditional client-server model. The client is your interface to the server. In the case of file sharing, you are usually provided a web-based client to access the data on the server. The service providers also need to secure the data you are putting up there. Therefore, all types of data are secured via encryption; users are authenticated via username and password, and if required, authorization is also provided.


Criteria for Choosing Programming Languages

An online file sharing service is a complex system. Though almost any programming language should be suitable to build an online file sharing service, your unique requirements should govern your choice of languages. For example, you could build a no-frills system with basic features and minimum exposure through an interface, or you could build a big and comprehensive system with a complex architecture, many different features, interfaces and a more robust user experience. Some things you may want to look for in a language include:

  • Language with cross-platform compatibility, unless specifications and requirements dictate otherwise
  • Language compatible with third-party plug-ins, libraries and frameworks because they make developmental work easier
  • Languages with an easy learning curve
  • If the software is going to have a web presence, which it ideally should, choose proven languages like HTML and JavaScript, because the latter is fast and efficient with server transactions.

Note that you need to choose languages for both server and client unless specified otherwise. So, we will review language options for both sides. (To learn about languages used for the internet, see The 5 Programming Languages That Built the Internet.)

Server-End Languages

Broadly, server-end languages are responsible for implementing the software architecture, communicating with the server and database, security and overall algorithm or logic.

Java and Python

Both languages, unless the software will not have a web presence, should be an automatic choice because of a large developer and tester community support base, availability of third-party libraries and frameworks, and compatibility with many different third-party plug-ins. With both languages, you do not need to convert them to assembly language before implementing the code, which saves time. Developing an online file sharing system is no small task, and the features mentioned above can come in very handy. If your online file system has web and mobile interfaces, then there are few languages that are better than Java and Python. Python is relatively simpler to learn, but Java is still a bit more comprehensive. (For more on Java, see Why Is Java Preferred to Other Languages as a Building Block?)

MySQL with SQL

An online file sharing system is likely to store a huge number of files that reference one another. This makes it a complex system. You need robust querying to manage such a system. SQL, combined with MySQL should be able to manage any number of queries you want.

C and C++

Both languages are good assembly level languages and they have a role, even if relatively limited, in building a robust online file sharing system. If you expose many APIs or web services, writing them could be easy with C and C++. Also, there are certain algorithms which still cannot be written in a high-level language like Java. For such cases, C and C++ are great.

Ruby on Rails

Ruby and Rails are not the same. While Ruby is a language, Rails is a web application framework. Ruby is especially useful if you are building a system with web-based interfaces such as a browser and mobile app. It is a server-side scripting language that can interact with the database. To implement a web-based system, Ruby needs Rails – a combination known as Ruby on Rails – a web application framework. However, compared to Java and Python, Ruby has limited capabilities.

Client-Side Languages

Client-side languages are responsible for displaying content, good user experience and server communications.

JavaScript and Ajax

Both JavaScript and Ajax can be used to load and display various webpage components such as the page, tables, frames and pop-ups in a specified manner, communicate client requests to the server, and post responses back. Apart from these functionalities, both languages can address many client queries without needing to interact with the server. This improves both efficiency and speed.


Both HTML and CSS are responsible for creating webpage content and user experience. Both have significantly evolved over time to respond to dynamic demands such as responsive design. The latest versions are HTML 5 and CSS 3. You can design webpages that not only deliver good user experience, but also adapt to a wide variety of devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Online file sharing systems like Dropbox and Google Drive are examples of responsive design, powered by HTML and CSS.

How Languages Work in Different Web Servers

All server-side languages have certain common ways of working on the server. Of course, there are a few exceptions based on which language you have chosen.

Firstly, the job of the languages is to enable the server to validate the user of the file sharing service. To access the service, the user needs to create an account with a unique username and password. The server stores the user credentials on the database. Every time the user attempts to access the file sharing service, the web server validates the credentials.

The programming languages can also enable the web server to remember user credentials if the user so chooses. For example, the “Remember Me” option allows the web server to store certain details about the user.

One must also keep in mind frameworks. The web server needs to perform several repetitive tasks such as viewing, downloading and sharing files, and writing the programming language for such repetitive tasks can be quite tedious. A framework comprises components that can perform repetitive tasks and more so that the software developers do not need to write code individually. It's just a matter of plug and play with the component.


There are many languages available now for developing online file sharing services. Each language has its advantages and disadvantages. However, what needs to be kept in mind is that there is very little that distinguishes the programming languages. Still, there is scope to identify what is easier for you in terms of what the languages are offering. Some languages are a little bit easier to pick up than the others. What makes development much easier is the availability of frameworks, which can save a lot of effort on the part of the programmer.


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Kaushik Pal
Technology writer
Kaushik Pal
Technology writer

Kaushik is a technical architect and software consultant with over 23 years of experience in software analysis, development, architecture, design, testing and training. He has an interest in new technologies and areas of innovation. He focuses on web architecture, web technologies, Java/J2EE, open source software, WebRTC, big data and semantic technologies. He has demonstrated expertise in requirements analysis, architectural design and implementation, technical use cases and software development. His experience has covered various industries such as insurance, banking, airlines, shipping, document management and product development, etc. He has worked on a wide range of technologies ranging from large scale (IBM…