What are the techniques used by FileSender?

FileSender has been a reliable tool for exchanging files securely for non-profit and public institutions for many years. This is due to the underlying technology, which has been well thought out from the start. Jan Meijer and Guido Aben share everything about the technology and features of FileSender in this interview.

FileSender is a native web application built with PHP and Javascript, and other technologies. FileSender deliberately uses open standards because this offers the best guarantee for a smooth roll-out for its users. Jan Meijer, a member of the FileSender board and Senior Advisor International Strategy at Uninett: “We have made the right choices in the past. We always have to make an assessment of new technologies: which new technology will be a winner that everyone will embrace? FileSender’s software is hosted on GitHub, the world’s most popular hosting platform for open source applications. Our users know how this site works. If they want to change something or want a new feature, they can create a ticket on this site.”

Extensions and improvements

FileSender has steadily expanded and improved over the past few years. Where do the ideas for improvements come from? Guido Aben, FileSender board member and Director, International eInfrastructure Cooperation at AARNet: “During presentations at conferences we come into contact with users who make suggestions for improvements and features. We also have a mailing list and the subscribers also provide input. Furthermore, we organize a Birds of a Feather (BoF) at least once a year, where the FileSender team members meet in an informal setting. We usually combine this with a conference where all stakeholders attend. Due to corona, we have had to organize this meeting digitally this past year. During this meeting we vote for or against new features. We also make an inventory of who has experience in implementing something. Sometimes proposals for new features are so premature that we first establish who has experience with a particular technique.”

Support for many languages

Because of the global application, FileSender is available in numerous languages. To achieve this, FileSender supports international character sets. This means that the Cyrillic alphabet or Asian languages can be effortlessly integrated into FileSender. Users can supply translations from the community. POEditor is the platform for this purpose. “It is a conscious decision to choose this platform. This way we don’t have to build and maintain our own translation platform. If a Ghanaian user wants to use FileSender in his own language, he or she joins POEditor and is able to upload the translation. When 90% of this is done, we import the translation into the standard release. Modules for languages such as Dutch, South African, Japanese, Korean, German and even different types of English are available for FileSender,” Jan Meijer clarifies.

Maximum file size

Guido Aben: “The fact that we have succeeded in sending increasingly larger files through smart development processes is one reason why FileSender is so successful. The maximum size of a file to be sent must always be ahead of the average user’s requirements. Around 2006, researchers were still sending large data files via e-mail. At the time, that was still manageable. At a certain point it was no longer possible. Researchers switched to sending hard disks with data by post. We realized that researchers needed a proper application. At first 50 MB was big enough, then it grew to 500 MB. Not much later we reached the magic limit of 1 GB and today it is possible to send files of 1 TB.”

Consolidating crypto functionality

“In addition to our user interface, we are planning to focus on further consolidation of crypto functionality this coming year. Our users have been able to upload encrypted files at a very decent speed over the past few years. But in practice, one could see that the practical size of the encrypted files one could send was limited by the capabilities of the browser. These technical limitations have now been solved for the main part. Approximately six months ago we launched a feature that made it possible to upload and download encrypted files with unlimited size. Especially in these times, it is great that you can safely share large files between organizations without worrying about the file size,” concludes Jan Meijer.

New user interface

Throughout the course of 2021, FileSender will continue to focus on the development of the new user interface. Jan Meijer: “We strive for the smoothest possible user environment. This is top of our agenda. Our lead developer has taken an interest in analyzing bottlenecks that affect speed. We expect to be able to make enhancements in this field. We are happy to evolve along with our lead developer’s interests.”

Curious about the latest version of FileSender? You can find the software including documentation here: https://github.com/filesender/filesender/release