How do I set up email as a file share solution?

The great thing about collaborating via email is that the entire infrastructure is in place already. Not only is it more than likely that you’re already using email, it’s also safe to assume your team members know how use it to send files to each other.


  • Basic functionality is provided by your existing email solution


  • Sign up for Dropbox
  • Download the Dropbox application

While signing up for Dropbox is very easy, it’s still a barrier to entry when that “attach file” button is at the bottom of every email message. Your team does have to make a concerted effort to stop emailing files to each other. However, this effort results in a huge payoff when it comes to scalable collaboration.

How do I share a file with a team member?

Email is a viable option when you only have one or two static documents to send. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide any kind of file updating — every time you want to share a new change, you have to resend the file to all your team members.


  • Compose a new email message
  • Attach a file
  • Send the message
  • Repeat the process each time the file is updated


  • Create a new folder inside your Dropbox for sharing documents with your team
  • Right-click the folder, and share the folder with team members
  • Place the desired file in the shared Dropbox folder on your computer
  • The file will appear in your team members’ Dropbox folders
  • Whenever anyone edits the file, everybody else’s copy will automatically update

Setting up a shared Dropbox folder does take a little bit of overhead, but you only have to do it once. The result is a folder that looks and acts like any other on your computer, but with the added bonus of automatic updating whenever someone changes a file. It’s well worth the trouble if your team works with a lot of files, not only keeping everyone on the same page, but also storing all company’s documents in one place.

In addition, using a dedicated file sharing solution creates a clear separation between your communications and your document collaboration. With Dropbox taking care of your files, you can use your inbox to do what it does best: talk to your team.

How do I share a file with a client?

Sharing files with your team or with clients isn’t different when you’re using email — in both cases, you simply attach a file and send the message. This can become a security issue if you accidentally send an attachment to the wrong email address (or worse, the wrong mailing list).


  • Compose a new email message
  • Attach a file
  • Send the message


  • Right-click the file in your Dropbox folder
  • Select the Share Dropbox Link menu item to generate a shareable link
  • Add an optional password and expiration date to the link with Dropbox Plus or Business
  • Send the link to your client. They can view or download the file with any web browser

Dropbox allows a user to distinguish between these two groups. Team members can collaborate inside a shared folder, while giving clients view-only access to specific files and folders or via shareable links. This lets your team leverage the power of automatic file syncing, but preserves the option of sending non-editable copies to people outside your organization.

These view-only copies can be password protected with Dropbox Plus or Business, which helps prevent accidental sharing of sensitive documents. Even if you mistakenly send information you don’t want shared, you can quickly disable a link and make the file inaccessible.

How do I share large files?

Email falls short when it comes to working with large files. The technical limitations of email mean that if your file is too big, you simply can’t send it as an attachment. If the recipient’s email service has smaller attachment limits, they may not receive your file.


  • File size limits vary from mail server to mail server
  • Large files have to be resent in their entirety each time a change is made


  • There are no file size restrictions when uploading via the Dropbox application
  • When syncing, only the altered portions of a file are sent to Dropbox

Most mail servers don’t allow attachments larger than 25 MB, and some impose limitations on the total amount of data that can be sent from any individual account. The easiest solution is to upload your file to a server or cloud-based file sharing system (like Dropbox). Even for files that do fall in this limit, waiting for them to upload can become a burden if you need to share your edits often.

Dropbox also makes a point to only upload portions of the file that have changed, which means it’s more efficient than its email counterpart.

How do I manage old versions of a file?

Email isn’t designed to record file revisions, but it often turns into a makeshift versioning system for companies that haven’t implemented more specialized solutions. This often means sorting through various email threads and hoping that everyone has used the same naming conventions.


  • Email doesn’t provide dedicated file versioning support, although your inbox does contain a rudimentary record of a file’s history
  • A common solution is to include a version number in the file name every time you send a document


  • Right-click the file in your Dropbox folder
  • Select the View Previous Versions menu item to list the file’s history
  • Select the desired version and click Restore

Dropbox makes file versioning both structured and automatic. Unlike an email-based solution, it associates old versions of a file with the current version. This makes viewing a file’s history much more intuitive. And, since Dropbox does all this without any action on the user’s part, you’ll never have to worry about version control until you need to restore an old copy of a file.

Email is often a “good enough” option for small teams but a formal versioning solution isn’t just more convenient — it’s safer. It’s easy to delete emails, and if your mail server implements storage quotas, it’s downright necessary. And once you delete a message that contains a file attachment, that version of the document is gone forever. If your team isn’t careful, this opens up the possibility of data loss.

How do I access files on my mobile devices?

Using email for sharing files on mobile devices has the same pros and cons as for desktop computers. On the one hand, if your team is using mobile devices for work, they probably already have email access set up. However, keeping documents up to date still presents a problem.


  • Open the email app on your mobile device
  • Find the message containing the file
  • Download the file and edit it in the desired application
  • When you’re done, email the changes back to your team


  • Download the Dropbox mobile application
  • Sign in to your account, and preview documents right inside the Dropbox mobile app
  • Using Dropbox-connected mobile apps like Microsoft Office, any changes you make are synced across all devices

The biggest benefit that Dropbox has over email on mobile devices is that it provides a straightforward file system. Instead of sifting through your emails for the right attachment, Dropbox lets you organize documents into a familiar folder/file structure. With the Dropbox mobile app, you can easily preview the most up-to-date versions of files, keeping your inbox free of new attachments every time even the most minor edit is made.