Gmail attachments – sending files with email, viewing and downloading attached files

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What are email attachments?

Email attachments are digital files that you can send along with the main contents. You can attach almost any kind of file to an email including but not limited to text and PDF documents, spreadsheets, images, audio and video.

Most email services have an upper limit on the attachment size and here Gmail is very generous. You can attach up to 20MB of files with an email message. This is more than sufficient for most needs. If you have larger attachments, I suggest using Gmail with Google Drive or one of the many web services that let you store and send large files.

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Attaching files to emails in Gmail

The Gmail interface makes it very easy, even for beginners, to attach files to email messages. In the “Compose Mail” window, you shall see a small paper clip icon with an “Attach a file” link right under the email subject line – refer image below.

Attaching files to email messages in Gmail

Click on the link and then the “Choose File” button. This launches a pop up window that lets you navigate the hard disk of your computer – move to the directory that holds the file to want to attach. Double click on the file or select it and click “Open” button (on Windows Vista). This closes the pop-up window and sends the file to your Gmail account to be attached to the email. Please understand that the time taken for the file to be transferred from your computer to the Gmail server will depend on your internet access speeds and the size of the file. Obviously, on slower connections, a large file can take a frustrating bit of time to upload and attach.

Steps in the process of attaching files to emails in Gmail

As long as you haven’t crossed the 20MB attachment size limit, you can upload another file. In fact, if you’re on a slow internet connection and want to attach several large files, I suggest you don’t wait for each file to upload and attach to the email. Just select the attachments one by one – you can then write your email message while the files are transferred and attached one by one – saves time.

By the way, when a file is successfully uploaded and attached to the email message it gets a small checkbox in front of its name. This lets you select the file in case you want to remove it from the attachment list.

Attaching a file that is larger than the 20MB Gmail limit

As mentioned in the beginning, Gmail has a 20MB limit on email attachment size. So how to you send a file that is more than 20MB in Gmail? There are two ways to go about this.

First, I suggest you use a compression program (also known as a zipping program) to decrease the file size especially when the file is only a little above 20MB. Generally word processor documents, spreadsheets and PDFs can lose a lot of their flab when compressed. Zipping a file that’s a little more than 20MB would probably bring the file size under the maximum value. However, zip programs are not very effective on images, music or video files. Make sure the recipient has the necessary compression program to be able to “unzip” the attachment and view/run the file.

The second method is to “split” the file. Splitting very large files into manageable chunks that are less than 20MB works very well. In this case too, the recipient would need the splitting program to get the file back together as a whole. Another issue with file splitters is that if you forget to send even one part, the recipient would most probably not be able to do anything till he/she gets the lost section.

Viewing email attachments in Gmail

In Gmail, image attachments are displayed as thumbnails with two links beside each – View and Download. Clicking on View displays the full size image in a new browser window or a new browser tab. Microsoft Word documents (including the latest docx files) can be converted by Gmail to HTML format so that you can read these online (no need to download) and other kinds of email attachments like PDFs and text files can be viewed through Google Docs.

Viewing different types of email attachments in Gmail

Downloading Gmail attachments

You can download Gmail attachments either one by one or all together. Clicking on the Download link beside an email attachment will download only that file. The Download all attachments link is found right under the actual email message and just before the email attachments list.

Depending on which web browser you are working on, email attachments will either be downloaded to a specified directory (the download directory set in the browser) or the program will let you choose the storage location.

Email attachments not allowed in Gmail

Google wants to keep its Gmail service clean and neat. Executable files, the ones with a .exe file extension are not allowed as attachments – ever! You cannot fool Gmail by zipping an executable file and then attaching it. So if you need to send such files, burn it on a CD/DVD and go to the nearest post office or upload them to your web server.

Attached executable files pose a danger to the recipient as they can potentially harbour viruses that can cause considerable damage and loss of data.

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