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What is a Download?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments
By anon262805 — On Apr 21, 2012

People who don't create a thing, who don't know a thing about how the industry works and money in this industry are earned - want to decide for other people who create. They want to take beautiful things for free; they abuse free speech principles in order to get just free access to downloads of artistic works. Those people are simply dangerous to any society and any politics! They employ liberal and democratic rhetoric in shallow way - undermining its credibility!

By anon119906 — On Oct 19, 2010

I support free downloads of music, videos and all the knowledge and wisdom to be shared with fellow humans for free.

why would everyone rate their success only in terms of money?

If your art, music or talent reaches more and more people in less time and accepted by more and more people, is int it a big success and i am sure it will be much rewarded even monetarily in many ways, it will lead you to more potential opportunities to make more money if you are after in very many other ways.

By GolfForLife — On Jul 21, 2010

@Perforations - I disagree. I think downloading movies and music for free is the same as taking food from the grocery store without paying. It’s all stealing. A free economy doesn’t mean products are free for those who simply don’t want to pay. It means that any manufacturer or business has a right to receive money in exchange for the product they have created or the service they offer. Capitalism fails when people treat the market as something to be taken advantage of as much possible instead of simply a place to exchange goods for currency.

By Perforations — On Jul 21, 2010

@klo - Generally speaking, I support free downloads of music and movies. In music in particular, big record labels tend to take ridiculously huge shares of the money earned from record sales, despite having very little to do with an album or song’s creation.

With well-known artists, the product (the album or single) will pretty much sell itself. I think Radiohead’s daring decision with its last album, “In Rainbows”, is going to help shape the direction of music sales permanently. If you don’t know, Radiohead, one the biggest bands in the world, released its last record online, without a label, and at whatever cost the person downloading wished to pay.

Record labels tried to make this stunning act of independence look stupid, but the numbers don’t lie. The album made more money than any of their other records, and it all went to the band, and not a corporation.

So I say, listen to the music for free if you want. Bring down the corporations that pollute the radiowaves with processed, passionless music.

By klo — On Jul 21, 2010

The downloading of torrent files has increased considerably in the last few years. Torrents are unique in that they allow a user to download music, movies, programs, etc. with little risk of legal consequences, as they are difficult to trace.

I suspect these types of files are more or less a backlash against the unreasonably huge monetary fees that large corporations have sued “pirates” for. Anyone else agree with me?

However, it seems large media corporations have started to catch on to the power of bit torrent sharing, as sites like ThePirateBay.com have been prosecuted. I have no doubt though, that something else will take the torrent's place once the law locks it down.

By LitNerd — On Jul 19, 2010

Always be sure to check what you are downloading to see that it is safe for your computer. Many forms of spam and viruses can be downloaded onto your computer without you even knowing about it. Firewalls can help with this problems.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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