What is the Difference Between Uploading and Downloading?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

"Uploading" and "downloading" are terms used to refer to types of electronic data transfers. The difference between them is the direction in which the files are being transferred. Files are considered to be uploaded when they are transferred from a computer or other electronic device to a central server, and downloading is when the files are transferred from a server to a smaller peripheral unit, such as a computer, smartphone or other device. These two different types of transfers are often done via the Internet, such as when a file is downloaded from a website. The transfer of data from one system or device to a similar system or device, such as from a desktop computer to a laptop, usually is not considered uploading or downloading.

Files are downloaded when they are transferred to a computer from a server.
Files are downloaded when they are transferred to a computer from a server.

Uploading

The most common type of uploading is when a user uploads a digital file to an Internet site. For example, a user might upload vacation photos to a social networking website or a home video to a video sharing site. The uploaded files are then stored on the website's servers and can be seen by anyone who has Internet access and, if necessary, the right software for viewing it.

Musicians can upload their music to various websites.
Musicians can upload their music to various websites.

Other websites allow users to upload digital files for storage. This can allow users to store more files or larger files than would be possible to store on their own computer or device because of its limited storage capacity. Uploading files to storage websites also allows other users or other devices to have access to them. Permission to access the files can be granted to only certain people, or the files could be made public for anyone to access.

Emoticons and images may be downloaded onto a phone for use in text messages.
Emoticons and images may be downloaded onto a phone for use in text messages.

Another type of uploading takes place within a closed computer system, such as one within a single office building or one that connects a group of businesses. These types of systems typically have servers to store information that needs to be shared among multiple computers or devices. Digital files can be uploaded from any computer or device that is connected to the system, then can be downloaded or accessed by any other user in the system.

Downloading

Whenever electronic files or information are transferred from a central system to a computer or device that is connected to that system, it is considered downloading. Files can be downloaded temporarily and then deleted after they have been used once, or they can be downloaded on a more permanent basis and used for a long period of time. For example, a funny video file might be downloaded from the Internet and soon deleted after it has been watched, but a helpful application might be downloaded and used for months or years.

Downloaded files are sometimes automatically stored in a particular location on the computer or device, and they are automatically accessed from that location when needed. An example of this is an application that is downloaded to a smartphone — the user typically cannot control where the app is stored on the phone, it is simply stored where the phone stores all of its apps. In other cases, the user can choose where the downloaded files will be stored. For example, a laptop user might download a music file to a specific folder for music or another type of file to the computer's desktop, where it can be found quickly.

Speed

The time that it takes to upload or download a file depends on several factors. The main factor is the digital size of the file, which is measured in bytes. The larger the file, the longer it takes to transfer the information in it.

The quality of the connection from the Internet or central server to the smaller computer or device also makes a difference in the transfer speed. A computer that has high-speed Internet connection will be able to download or upload a file much more quickly than a computer that has a low-speed connection would. In addition, the speed of the server on which the file is stored can affect upload times or download times.

Background Operations

Uploading and downloading occur frequently, often without the user being aware that he or she is doing it. For example, incoming email is downloaded from a server, and outgoing emails are uploaded to be sent out. The source code of a web page is downloaded to the user’s computer so that he or she can view the content. Whenever a computer or device is connected to the Internet or another larger system, files are frequently transferred back and forth — uploaded and downloaded — throughout the normal course of use.

In some cases, users must pay for files, programs or apps before they can be downloaded.
In some cases, users must pay for files, programs or apps before they can be downloaded.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon1000284

I think the terminology in your definition about a "central system" can lead to a misuse of upload vs. download. What the prior poster has noted is an example, i.e. transferring files from one workstation to another. Wouldn't it be clearer to leave the word "central" out of the definition. In that case, if someone transfers a file from some other computer to their own it is a download, and if they transfer a file from their computer to another it is an upload. This definition could then apply to more than just the central server connected to various devices scenario.

anon335018

If I'm transferring files from my computer to a client's workstation, am I uploading to their computer, or downloading from my computer?

anon59115

I use a Hamachi server to remote view cctv cameras. if i apply for a fixed IP address will my video streaming be faster? i'm currently streaming from four Mbps ADSL line with no fixed IP address through Hamachi to a 3G HSDPA 7.2Mbps. It's a 16 channel capture card, but i only stream one port at a time. My pc spec is high core 2 duo. Can you help?

anon53425

why is the dtr lower then the download speed the ip sales us. I went to speakeasy and speedtest and d5m u0.3m yet the dtr was d600K?

anon48795

Yes. Where does the downloaded material get stored? Answer please.

anon40634

where does the downloaded matter gets stored? is a cd required for it?

anon40463

How do you upload?

anon16412

like downloading uses the internet, does uploading consume an equal amount of the internet? im a technologically illiterate person.

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