Cloud storage isn’t just for your own personal files. You can use it to easily share files without any hassle. Share files back-and-forth with your friends and colleagues, or make them available to the entire Internet.
Shared files can automatically sync to each person’s computer, or you can access them via the web or mobile app. It’s a more convenient way to share files than emailing them back and forth.
To quickly share an individual file with someone, right-click the file in your Dropbox folder and select Share Link. You can also right-click the file in the Dropbox web interface and select Share Link, too.
Dropbox will copy a public link to the file to your clipboard. Send the link to someone — or post it online for all to see — and people will be able to access and download your file. Anyone with the link will have access to your file, so it’s not the most secure way to share — but it is the easiest, fastest way.
Dropbox can also share folders with specific people. To do this, either right-click a folder in your Dropbox folder on your desktop and select Share this folder, or right-click the folder in Dropbox on the web and select Invite to folder.
You’ll be taken to the Dropbox website, where you can add the email addresses of specific people you want to share the folder with. They’ll need a Dropbox account to access the folder. Once they’ve accepted, the folder will appear in every person’s Dropbox account and anyone can copy files to and remove file-s from the folder. It’s a great way to ensure you and a friend or colleague all have the same files. The files and any changes or removals will sync to each person’s PC automatically, just like any other Dropbox folder.
Dropbox only allows you to use “view-only” sharing if you have a paid Dropbox Pro or Dropbox for Business account. Otherwise, anyone you share the folder with can edit it, adding new files to it, removing files from it, and modifying existing files.
Google Drive has similar features. To modify sharing settings in Google Drive, right-click and file or folder in your Google Drive folder, point to the Google Drive submenu, and select Share. You can also right-click a file or folder in Google Drive on the web and select Share. This will bring up the exact same dialog you’d see on the web.
The dialog gives you a link to share the file and options for who can access the file. By default, the file is private and only you can view it.
If you want to make the file public so anyone with the link can access it, click the Change link next to private and set the files’ share settings to “Anyone with the link.” You can also set it to “Public on the web” — if you do this, Google will index the file and it may show up in web search results.
To share the file with specific people, add their email addresses at the bottom. They’ll receive an invitation to access the file. You can set sharing settings to choose who can edit or just view the file — unlike in Dropbox, which requires a paid account to do this. If you share Google Docs files in this way, you and other people can edit them in real-time.
To sync shared folders and files to your computer, you have to visit the “Incoming” section in Google Drive on the web and then drag files and folders from “Incoming” to “My Drive.” They’ll then sync to your computer, and any changes you make will sync back.
For some reason, OneDrive doesn’t include built-in sharing options in Windows 8.1’s File Explorer. You could use the OneDrive “Store app” to change these settings, but you’d probably prefer to use the website on your desktop. Windows 8.1’s OneDrive integration also doesn’t offer a way to sync folders and files shared with you to the desktop. You’ll have to access them in the web browser. OneDrive does offer all the same sharing settings as Dropbox and Google Drive, but you’ll need to use your browser — you may want to use Dropbox or Google Drive if Windows desktop integration is important to you.
To get started sharing a file or folder in OneDrive on Windows 8.1, right-click the file or folder, point to Share To, and select OneDrive. This will take you straight to the file or folder on the OneDrive website. You could also just open the OneDrive website in your browser and locate the file or folder there.
Click the Share button on the website to share the file or folder. You can use the “Invite people” options to invite specific people by their email addresses and choose whether they can view or edit the file. You can also choose whether they need to log in with a Microsoft account or not.
The “Get a link” options allow you to create a link to the file or folder, and anyone with the link can access it. You can choose what people with the link can do to the file — whether they can just view it or edit it as well. You can also make the file available publically — it will show up in search engines even if people don’t know the link.
To access files and folder shared with you, you have to head to the OneDrive website or mobile app and look in the Shared section. Files and folders shared with you won’t be synced to your desktop, so you’ll need to use your browser to download such files and upload files to shared folders. As with Google Drive, Office Online also allows you to edit documents with other people in real-time.
If you use another service — or one of these clients on another platform, like Mac OS X or Linux — the process should be very similar. Quick and easy file sharing is one of the big benefits to storing your files “in the cloud” — in other words, on a company’s servers.