File Transfer Problem

It’s surprising even though I run into this problem quite often, I have yet to find a perfect solution. I’m talking about file transfer. Say we have two users – let’s call them Bob and Alice. These two are inexplicably dumb, and have no clue about technology. They are in two different states, in two different time zones and they can’t exchange documents in person. Bob has some files that Alice will need in an hour or so, so snail mail is out of the question. How do the two go about exchanging the files if we assume both have broadband internet connection at their location?

Simplest solution of course is to email the files. This is what the tech idiots do all the time after all. And it works, unless of course Bob’s file is roughly 1GB. In such a situation email becomes useless, since most servers will refuse to handle attachments of that size.

I had this situation happen to me today, and I was at a loss. I kept running different scenarios in my head, and I could not find a solution. I need a simple, no hassle solution that would allow transferring of the file with no complicated setup involved.

First thing I thought off was IM. Most of modern IM protocols support have file transfer tools, which could potentially allow for transferring our large file. Unfortunately, Bob uses AIM, while Alice prefers MSN and so they can’t talk to each other. Registering a new account is tedious and annoying, and neither one wants to do it. So it’s out of the question.

Bob could set up an FTP server… But unfortunately he is an idiot. Furthermore, both of them also live behind NAT’s and firewalls so any kind of server-client communication will be very difficult. This includes setting up a torrent tracker and seeding files.

Using 3rd party services such as SendIt is out of question because neither Bob nor Alice want the file sitting on some random server for an unknown amount of time. They are bound by confidentiality agreements, and etc…

So how do we get them to exchange files?

The best I could do for them was to set up an FTP server in the office and have Bob upload the file to it, only to be downloaded by Alice. Not a perfect solution, but a workable one.

Unfortunately before I was able to configure IIS and punch a hole in the firewall and send them instructions, they already got annoyed and gave up. They were strapped for time. So in the end they opted for faxing each other relevant pages and snail mailing the rest.

But the problem is still here. If we remove the presence of a central office (here me) then Bob and Alice would still be without means to exchange files…How do you usually do this?

[tags]file, file transfer, ftp, file transfer protocol, sending files[/tags]

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12 Responses to File Transfer Problem

  1. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Would any web based online file sharing system do the trick? I believe some of them could handle a 1GB file…

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  2. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    We do what you wanted to do. We setup their own secure share on one of our servers and provide them with login credentials.

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  3. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Alphast – I’d rather avoid using 3rd party online sites to host the file just because it may contain confidential information. Yes, they could encrypt it, and password protect it but still.

    Miloš – what do you use to set up the shares? Would it make sense for me to run it on a server here?

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  4. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Yes, I can understand that as well. But I was thinking of something where you just upload, download and then simply erase everything (which is not completely safe, but the chance of having someone intercepting is relatively low). But I admit it is not really “idiotproof”, as it is likely that someone will forget erasing, or erase too early…

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  5. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    We either set them up on Novell’s NetDrive (using Novell’s Client); a SNAP server or a share on Windows 2003. We also have an Xserve, but haven’t used it for that yet. The easiest thing to do is enable SMB for them to map the drive (if on the same network) or just SFTP stuff.

    If you can secure it and monitor it, I would recommend having something like this as a backup in case people need it in the future.

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  6. chris UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Have you ever seen this:

    Basically, it’s a http/file server that you run on your local PC. It’s also a single executable file so there’s no install needed.

    Surely if you can walk them through downloading and installing an FTP client and populating the appropriate fields, you can walk them through reconfiguring their router. I just looked and I don’t think this software supports encryption, which, to me, wouldn’t work in your situation.

    I keep this tool on my USB drive and have actually used it a few times at LAN parties and coffee shops and such.

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  7. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Chris – yeah, I know about it. It’s a great app but it probably wouldn’t work.

    The problem is that Bob is probably somewhere in the field, at a random company which may have a BOFH maintaining the firewall. Alice on the other hand may actually work for a different company, with a strict security policy.

    So anything that requires port forwarding, firewall configuration and etc won’t work. :(

    With FTP all I really need them to do is to type in ftp://username:password@server.tld in the IE address bar. Hell, I can send them a clickable link in an email. Unfortunately the windows ftp client does not do any encryption, and IIS FTP server that I have in the office does not support SSL.

    Of course Bob and Alice probably wouldn’t use encryption when transmitting files via email either cause they are idiots so this is not such a huge disadvantage.

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  8. chris UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    But you’re talking about Bob and Alice. I thought those two were the epitome of security! If they use FTP or plain ol’ email, you know that Eve (probably the BOFH at that one company) is going to know about it!

    FileZilla supports SFTP and also runs as a standalone executable. You could at least put a link to both that utility and your SFTP server to prevent Eve from getting any other files left on your server.

    Anyway, you’ve presented a good problem. Good luck with it.

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  9. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yes, the evil Eve. I hate that bitch! ;)

    I’m tempted to just bring a Linux box to work, set it up in the corner running ssh server and then find the simplest standalone scp client in existence and give it to Bob and Alice.

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  10. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Gotta laugh over all your experiences with “clueless Lusers”. Such a thing should be easy huh?

    Well if ya have talked them into using firefox, hopefully ya have then there is a FF extension, AllPeers Beta that seems like it woould do the trick. It requires that you provide an email address but communications are encrypted using SSL. I’ve never used it but it looks easy to use.

    Something else I’ve never used foldershare also looks easy to use. I know nothing about it tho.

    anyway just a couple thoughts.

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  11. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox SuSE Linux says:

    Unfortunately most of my users have not been convinced to use Firefox yet. Some do indeed use it, but not all of them.

    Still, AllPeers looks interesting. I will have to look into it.

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  12. I think the powers that be want this to be difficult. They don’t want it to be easy for people to transfer large amounts of data over the Internet. It would make copyright infringement easier, and probably enable other things they fear.

    Until Windows comes with some p2p file transfer mechanism by default Alice and Bob will always have problems.

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