How Do I Transfer Files From One Computer to Another Computer?

By J.T. Barett

If you need to share documents, photos or videos, you can choose from among several methods that let you transfer files between computers, in the same room or around the world. Most techniques involve copying the files over your local network or the Internet; you can also use removable media such as USB data sticks for quick local data transfers. Email, the old standby, is yet another method for sharing data; although nearly universal and relatively simple, it has some limitations.

Windows Easy Transfer

Microsoft’s Windows Easy Transfer is a program designed to ease computer upgrades by moving files automatically from your old machine to a new PC. The program guides you through a step-by-step process, organizing music, documents, photos and other kinds of files with the exception of programs. To run Windows Easy Transfer, you need an administrator login account and password on both the old and new PC. The program can move files via an external hard drive, flash drive or an Easy Transfer cable connected to both computers. If you use a flash drive or traditional hard drive, you connect it to the older computer first. Windows Easy Transfer copies files from the PC’s drive to the external drive. When that part is done, you disconnect the drive from the first machine, connect it to the second and run Windows Easy Transfer on that computer; the program automatically moves information from the external drive to the computer’s internal drive.

Wireless Network

A big advantage of wireless networks is the speed at which files transfer between computers. Although you must invest time upfront configuring the network to allow two computers to share files, copying data becomes a matter of opening the file browser and dragging documents from one machine onto the hard drive icon of the other. After a wireless network is set up, file transfer rates typically run at several megabytes per second between computers on the same local network.

Cloud-Based Storage

Internet-based “cloud” storage services provide secure file space you can use to transfer data. Dropbox, Apple’s iCloud and Google’s Google Drive are all examples of cloud-based storage services, with many others also available. To use the service, you set up an account, log in using a Web browser and copy files from your computer by dragging and dropping or navigating with a file browser. Then you can easily download the files to your other computer. Many vendors provide a few gigabytes of storage for free and let you upgrade to larger amounts for a nominal cost. Both sending and receiving computers must have Internet access to make this method work. This technique is especially valuable for moving large amounts of data over long distances.

Removable Storage Media

A removable USB flash drive or external hard drive lets you transfer gigabytes of data between computers. To use them, you run the computer’s file browser program, using it to locate the files and folders you want to copy. Drag the files in the browser window, then drop them onto the icon for the external drive. Depending on the drive technology, file transfers done this way can be somewhat faster than over a network, as USB carries data at higher speeds than Wi-Fi does.

Email Attachments

You can share small amounts of data by sending an email to the recipient and attaching the files to the message; the data “piggybacks” on the email text so the recipient gets both at the same time. To use this feature, compose an email message, then click the “attach” button. The email program pulls up a file browser that allows you to locate the files you want; select them, then click the “Open” button. Click “Send” to send the message with its data payload. This technique, however, has a couple drawbacks: many email services limit the size of attachments to well under 100 MB, so you’re limited to sending small PDFs, photos or documents. And unfortunately, malicious email is notorious for carrying viruses and other kinds of malware, so many email systems block or forbid EXE or other kinds of attachment files -- your message may end up in the recipient’s spam folder.