The internet has millions of files that you can download – videos, music, photos, games and free software. We explain how to go about downloading these files, where to save them on your computer, and give you some tips on how to steer clear of unsafe or corrupt files.
Downloading a file means transferring it from the internet computer that is hosting it, and saving it on your own PC hard drive.
You can see if a file is available for download by holding your mouse pointer over the link on the web page. The link will end in a file name that tells you what type of file it is. For example, an MP3 music file will end with .mp3, while an ‘executable’ program will end with .exe. If the link ends with .htm or .html then it’s another web page, not a file.
To download a file in Microsoft Windows, right-click the link and choose ’Save Target As’ from the drop-down menu. A ’Save As’ dialog box will pop up and ask you where to save the file.
Alternatively, just click the link. This will make a box pop up that says “Do you want to save or run this file?” or something equivalent. Clicking ‘Save’ will bring up the ‘Save As’ dialog box, and you can continue as before.
At this point, you can change the name of the file if you want. Some files have such unhelpful names that you’ll never remember why you downloaded them. If you change a name like 'Brochure.pdf' to 'Blogs_villas_winter_Brochure.pdf' then you will know what it is. However, be careful not to change the three-letter file extension (.pdf, .exe, .zip, etc) because Windows needs this information in order to run the file.
...and saving it
The final question is where to save a file. Many people save things to their desktop so they can find them again, but this makes for very messy desktops.
It’s better to create a special folder called Downloads, My Downloads or Incoming, and save every file in the same place. You’ll always be able to find the files you need, delete the ones you don’t, and back up the ones you want to keep.
People who download normal files on broadband connections should not have problems, but if a download fails, you have to restart it from the beginning.
If you download large files, eg movies, or have an unreliable internet connection, it’s better to use a file download manager. These can resume work on broken downloads (if the host allows it) and can speed things up by downloading different parts of a large file at the same time. They can also download long lists of files at pre-set times, so you can set them to work while you are asleep.
But before you adopt a file download manager, check that it does not include unwanted advertising or tracking features.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing systems can also speed up a file transfer by downloading different parts of a file from different host computers. One of the most popular P2P systems is called BitTorrent.
Remember that while most files are safe, they are not always what they seem. The net has plenty of criminals trying to get round your PC’s defences to install malware. People searching for pirate copies of music and movie files are easy targets. Avoid downloading files from sites you can’t trust, and make sure you scan files before running them.