A download is a computer file or set of files which is designed to be transferred from a server to an individual user. Downloads can take a number of forms, ranging from single music files distributed by artists as free samples to their loyal fans to entire trade journals packaged for electronic distribution. Many people utilize downloads on a regular basis, and there is a thriving trade in providing hubs where people can access a wide variety of downloads.
Some downloads are designed to be used offline, with people simply accessing the Internet to get what they need. Others are meant to be used online. For example, someone could download an instant messaging program to chat with friends over the Internet, or someone could download a multiplayer game which would allow people to network and play together over the Internet.
Many software programs come in the form of a download. Free software can be downloaded and used instantly, while products which people need to pay for will require a credit card or other form of payment before people can access the server to download the software. Classically, software is available in compressed form so that it will transfer quickly, with users decompressing it on their end so that they can install it.
Music and video are popular forms of downloads, available for free or with a fee from many sites. People can also download documents, presentations, and a variety of other materials. For example, an editor and client might collaborate on a project by storing the latest version on a server so that either party can easily download it and see how the project is going, or a librarian might subscribe to downloadable journals so that students can access them with ease.
There are some risks with downloads. Free downloads are problematic because when they come from unreliable sources, they can contain embedded materials which may be harmful to computer users, such as programs which harvest user names and passwords, or programs which load spyware onto the user's computer. The ease with which products can be downloaded also makes it easier for pirates to illegally copy and distribute products via download.
Someone who wishes to share something by making it available for download will need to have access to a server. If the file or files are large, it may be helpful to compress them for faster transfer times. Once the file or files are prepared for download, they can be uploaded to the server, and users can send the address of the file to anyone they want to access it. For private materials, users can password protect the directory, allowing only authorized users to get into it and get the file or files.