E-mail has a variety of functions that make communication easier. One of those capabilities is the option to send computer files over the internet as an attachment. This could be a picture of your family, a favorite song, a video, a spreadsheet, anything. Almost all types of files can be sent over e-mail, although most e-mail messages limit the file size to 25 Megabytes (MB).
All computer files have an associated “File Type” or “Extension” after the name of the file, which indicates what the file is. This instructs your computer on which software will be required to open the file. This is usually a three or four letter suffix that comes at the very end of the filename after a period. Sometimes you might not see the Filetype idendifier in your “File Explorer” but you can read more about how that works here.
|FILE TYPE||Extension||Opens With…|
|A web browser, an image previewer or
image editing tool
|Windows Media Player, iTunes, VLC,
or any audio player software.
|Windows Media Player, VLC, Quicktime|
|Word, Excel, Acrobat Reader|
Check for Viruses
You might also receive an executable file (.exe) or Batch script (.BAT), be wary of these files unless you trust the sender and can confirm why they sent it. You might also receive a .zip file, which is a compressed collection of files that you can unzip and browse.
To check your computer for viruses, run Windows Defender, or use a third party Virus scanner to confirm that a file is benign. This can be true on Macs too, although viruses generally work different depending on the operating system (OS).
How to Attachment Files
Any e-mail client, whether it's desktop or Webmail, will have an attachment option. Usually this can be found as the image of a paperclip, which represents an attachment. Clicking this will open a window where you can either drag and drop a file, or you can browse through your folder system to find the appropriate file.
If you don't immediately find the Attachment button, you can check under the File or Insert menu. In order to do this, you will need to understand how folders work on your computer. Once you've selected the appropriate File, press the button that say Attach. Sometimes it make take a few seconds for the file to upload if you are using webmail. If you are sending from a desktop client, then the file will be uploaded when you press send.
How to Save/Open Attachments
If you've received an e-mail attachment, you can find it usually at the top or bottom of the e-mail message. Either left click and get the option to download, or right click, and select ‘Save Attachment,' which will let you choose which folder you want to save to. Or you can select “Open” which will open the File but will only download it to a temporary location.
The options available to you depend on what e-mail client you are using. Microsoft Outlook will let you “Save All Attachments” while Google's Gmail allows you to save files to Google Drive instead of on your hard drive.
How to Associate Files (Windows)
Most files that you receive will probably be sent with a filetype that your computer will already know how to open. If for some reason however, you get a strange file extension, you should look up what type of file it is supposed to be. You might even perform a Search Engine query for the letters that declare the extension. For example, “.mkv” is a less common used type of video file. You could find a video player to open it.
Once you've figured out what software to use to open the file, it should automatically detect the file type. However, if it does not, you can Right Click and the first option available to you will be to pick the software to use.
Sending Large Files
Sometimes you might need to send a file which is larger than 25 MB. E-mail was invented at a time when 25 MB was extremely large. Now, it might represent just 10 seconds of a High Definition video. If you ever encounter a scenario where you need to send a large file, there are a few options available which mostly exist outside of e-mail.
Image Hosting Services
If you need to host an image, there a few available places you can put them up. If you are sharing family photos you might consider using a Social Network like Facebook. If you are a photographer, you might use Flickr or DeviantArt, which protect your rights a little better. A popular place for quickly uploading images is called Imgur.com, but your images are public in all of these cases.
Even those sites might have size restrictions too. If you really want to share big images on a regular basis, you may even consider getting your own web hosting and learning how to use File Transfer Protocol (FTP). For most e-mail users this is totally unnecessary.
Video Hosting Services
If you need to share video, you can upload it to a video sharing site like Youtube or Vimeo. Depending on which service you choose, you sometimes have the option to make a video private, otherwise it will be public. Sometimes you can have a video be unlisted to search and then you can just send the video page URL to friends to view the video.
If it is important to keep the video in its best quality though, or to send the video file itself, you should either consider FTP or a cloud option. Most hosting services reduce the quality slightly so that it can “stream” quickly to viewers.
Where all other large file options fail, “Cloud Storage” tends to be the most reliable and doesn't require making your data public. Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive are all popular options, although many others exist. Sharing files over cloud storage requires setting up an account, uploading the files, and then selecting the option to share with someone, either by link or by e-mail. Any service you choose will have instructions on how to use it.
Picking the Right Option
Sending attachments over e-mail is by far the easiest option. Sharing documents over cloud storage or a hosting service only makes sense if you have big files to share, or if you want to have a shared folder on the internet that multiple people can access. For example, you might have a folder for ‘Wedding Pictures' where multiple people add their images, and everyone can see them.
If you are just getting familiar with the internet and with e-mail, learn how attachments and file types work first. Good luck!