949: File Transfer

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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File Transfer
Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on your friend's laptop, Tim Berners-Lee sheds a single tear.
Title text: Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on your friend's laptop, Tim Berners-Lee sheds a single tear.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: no explanation of the title text
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.
Cueball is trying to help a friend help their cousin send them a 25 MB file. This exceeds most email programs' attachment limit (note: Gmail increased their attachment limit to 25 MB in 2009, though many email programs still top out at 20 MB. This is because every email has to be transferred between several mail transfer agents that each have to save a copy of the email. Space constraints of those mail servers means that they may impose size limits, which happens to be 20 MB in most cases.), and so simply attaching the file to an email is out of the question.

The next option is to upload the file to an FTP server (FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, as opposed to HTTP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol), used to transfer files between computers on a shared network, such as the internet. However, FTP servers are a touch more esoteric than a mere email attachment, and many internet users don't have one of their own.

Web hosting is simply the ability to create a website and store all the data for said website on a server which is connected to the internet. If Cueball's friend's cousin had the ability to do that, sharing the file would be as easy as making a website for it, then having Cueball's friend visit said website and download said file. But no, the adventure continues.

Megaupload was one of many, many sites on the internet that recognizes most users' inability to host large files on their own, and so offers to host large files, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee. The payoff is that in order to make such a service profitable, many of these sites are cluttered with banner and pop up ads in a mad effort to squeeze as much ad revenue out of every page view as possible. It's not a dealbreaker for some, but Cueball seems to think it'll be too much for his friend's cousin to handle.

AIM direct connect was a file sharing system on AOL Instant Messenger, which was already suffering severe drops in popularity by the year 2000. Clearly, Cueball is grasping at straws here: anybody desperate enough to invoke the name of AOL as a solution instead of a problem must be at their wits' end.

Dropbox is a simple, easy to use program with an intuitive GUI that will automate file sharing between two computers using the internet, just like the internet was designed to do. But this also has its issues, as it requires both users to have a Dropbox account, then install the software—

But alas, by the time Cueball arrives at a solution, his friend's cousin has used a mix of old and new technology, namely a car and a USB drive, to physically transport the file to his friend's house, thus circumventing the internet all together. It's not an elegant solution, but sometimes brute force is the easiest way to get something done. (This approach is sometimes called "sneakernet.")

What happens in this comic illustrates 22 years later what Andy Tanenbaum said in 1989: Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.


[Cueball stands near a computer, talking on the phone to another person.]
Cueball: You want your cousin to send you a file? easy. He can email it to- ... Oh, it's 25 MB? Hmm...
Cueball: Do either of you have an FTP server? No, right.
Cueball: If you had web hosting, you could upload it...
Cueball: Hm. We could try one of those MegaShareUpload sites, but they're flaky and full of delays and porn popups.
Cueball: How about AIM Direct Connect? Anyone still use that?
Cueball: Oh, wait, Dropbox! It's this recent startup from a few years back that syncs folders between computers. You just need to make an account, install the-
Cueball: Oh, he just drove over to your house with a USB drive?
Cueball: Uh, cool, that works too.
I like how we've had the internet for decades, yet "sending files" is something early adopters are still figuring out how to do.

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About three years ago, I stumbled across this comic during an xkcd re-read, and I immediately thought "Hey, the small business I work for could make GREAT use of Dropbox!" Today, my boss says that bringing Dropbox to her business is one of the best ideas I've ever had. Boct1584 (talk) 01:22, 5 May 2017 (UTC)

Years ago the usb drive was a floppy disc and the transfer was called "sneaker net". This "solution" is much, much older than the web. Also, why would TBL shed a tear? What's an HTML server got to do with file sharing? Do you think Randall meant Tommy Flowers? -- ‎ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

You are right. I deleted the sentence about Tim Berners-Lee, because the comic shows a perfectly legitimate use of the internet: transferring a 25 Mb file, which is much complicated than it should be. Xhfz (talk) 21:00, 10 October 2013 (UTC)
He wasn't really right, and the title text should still be explained. I have done so. 20:35, 21 January 2014 (UTC)

Just split the file into two pieces and send them in two emails. 10:29, 3 August 2013 (UTC)

With a chisel? Not everybody has a chisel around the house, these days. 20:35, 21 January 2014 (UTC)

Actually Dropbox has a web interface, you don't need to download any program. Still, both need to have Dropbox account. --JakubNarebski (talk) 15:41, 13 December 2013 (UTC)

Yes. Yes, you do. 20:35, 21 January 2014 (UTC)

Guys, dropbox supports link-sharing, for users without an account. Although, that feature probably wasn't around at the time this comic was written. 02:46, 1 March 2014 (UTC)

Duke: I THINK that the TIM BERNERS LEE part is not just to do with the protocols. If you had to send it to your friend's laptop , you *could* mail it your friends email id rather than to yourself, essentially using the email service in the *right* manner. 07:27, 15 August 2014 (UTC)

After all these years I stumbled only now upon this note in Wikipedia's WebDAV article:
Tim Berners-Lee's original vision of the Web involved a medium for both reading and writing. In fact, Berners-Lee's first web browser, called WorldWideWeb, could both view and edit web pages.
So Tim Berners-Lee was imaging an interactive web when he invented html and http, instead of the static "web 1.0", which came alive. In his envisioned web, people probably would have uploaded a file to a webpage directly, instead of using the web-interfaces of email providers or services like Dropbox, which are complicated work-arounds to achieve the same thing. Enkidu (talk) 11:58, 24 February 2021 (UTC)

Hah, now we have darkhttp. Just download and install (a matter of seconds), execute (give root-of-to-share folder) and forward the ports on your router (2mins max). This should be rather easy :-). Alternatives could be also tftp etc. Or send something via GDrive^^ 10:11, 12 May 2015 (UTC)

"forward the ports on your router" isn't "2mins max" if your ISP puts its residential subscribers behind carrier-grade network address translation. For many, the only way out from behind CGNAT is to lease a static IP, and even for that, some ISPs require a commercially zoned service address. --Tepples (talk) 16:17, 17 October 2017 (UTC)

I'm surprised they didn't just use bittorrent. It's such a simple and easy way to transfer files. -- The Cat Lady (talk) 00:23, 23 August 2021 (UTC)