How to Transfer Huge Files with Ease

Shawn writes, I've got a 4.25 GB .avi file that I need to get to somebody. Every time I try to FTP it, I time out after about 25 MB transferred. Any suggestions on how to shrink it (tried to zip and was told it was too large)?

There are several ways to tackle this issue. If FTP is timing out, one way to address the problem is to use an FTP client that automatically resumes uploads when a timeout occurs, this way you get the file transferred without the frustration of numerous restarts. A second option is to use a compression utility that breaks large files into smaller chunks for easier file transfer. A third option is to simply burn the file to a data DVD and send it via overnight mail. Sure you're out $15, but it's a foolproof method for getting files from Point A to Point B with reasonable quickness. Read on to look at how each of these options plays out.

FTP Transfer Resume

If you experience frequent timeouts from a server you're trying to upload to, an FTP client with built-in resume is a must. For cases where you want to make secure file transfers, the free WinSCP client is my favorite choice. It makes a secure connection to your server (SFTP) and supports transfer resume for most FTP servers or an FTP append function for servers that are still using older implementations of SFTP. If your server doesn't support secure connections, the free version of SmartFTP is also an excellent choice for setting up file transfers to resume automatically.

Breaking Large Files Into Smaller File Parts

One of the oldest methods for transferring large files online is to use a tool to break the larger file into smaller pieces to be reassembled by the person downloading the file parts. My favorite solution for this is the compression utility, WinRAR. It costs $29, but is worth every penny. For years, WinRAR was the app of choice for newsgroup posting of video files. It remains one of the most efficient methods for compressing a file and breaking it into smaller chunks. The WinRAR interface supports breaking files into a wide variety of size, from as small as floppy disk size, to multiple CD or DVD sizes for really large files.


This could also be a more unusual application for BitTorrent. The protocol is best suited for pulling file part from lots of peers, but it also works for computer to computer transfers. If you make a torrent of the file you want to transfer and let the recipient know how to find it, you can make your machine a super seeder and have them download the file via the torrent. This provides the receiving computer with directions on how to re-assemble all the pieces of a file into a whole and might get around the issues faced with a failing FTP client.

Overnight Mail Saves the Day

Sometimes the old-school method is still the best method. If your upload speed is slow, it can take hours to get a 4.25GB file to a server where the recipient can download it. After you upload the file, they still need to download the file, which will likely take a couple of hours as well. You might spend $15 to get from point-to-point, but you can send several copies and avoid the potential failures of technology in getting data around the world. For smaller jobs (under 20GB), back the data up to a DV tape and ship it.

Above the 20GB range, mail is by far the fastest route for getting data to someone across the country. An iPod makes an excellent solution for shipping large quantities of data in a pinch - just store the files as data, pack the media player for shipping and send.

Other Methods of Data Transfer

Elsewhere I talk about Dropbox as a way to get files moved around between computers, for sharing between my own computers as well as sharing with others. Dropbox gets expensive if you have a large set of really big files and it's not as good at version control as some other options. If you need virtually unlimited file transfer, consider a solution like IDrive, which I reference in the section on backing up multiple computers online. While they are a backup solution, they also have IDrive Sync, which uploads your files to an online location you can share with others. Because they do versioning better than anything else I've tried, I'm starting to look to IDrive as my go to solution for sharing most things. The one downside to this is I still haven't found many people who are using IDrive, which means I have to convince the person I'm sharing with to create an account. is another popular option. I've had people share files with me this way, although I've also found it's upload frequently times out for really big files. YouSendIt supports files up to 2GB in size.