Transfer files from a Linux computer to another computer quickly and easily with Snapdrop. It is browser-based, so it works with any operating system, but the files stay within your own local network and never go to “the cloud”
Sometimes simple is best
There are many ways to transfer files from one Linux computer to another. Moving files to a computer with a different operating system requires a little more effort. If the requirement is a one-time move of files, there is no need to set up a Small Message Block (SAMBA) or Network File System (NFS) network share. And you may not have permission to make changes on the other computer.
You can put the files in a hosted cloud storage and then log in to the storage from the other computer and download the files. This means that the files have to be transferred over the Internet twice. This will be much slower than sending them over your home network. Maybe the files are sensitive and you don’t want to risk sending them to cloud storage.
If the files are small enough, you can email them. You have the same problem with email: it leaves your network over the internet and then gets picked up on the other computer over the internet. So your files will still leave your network. And email systems don’t like attachments that are binary executables or other potentially dangerous files.
You have the option of using a USB memory stick, but that quickly gets annoying when you’re both working on a series of files and regularly sending versions back and forth between yourself.
Snapdrop is a simple solution for file transfer between platforms. It’s open source, safe and free. It is also an impressive example of the simplicity that a well-designed tool or service can provide.
What is Snapdrop?
Snapdrop is an open source project released under the GNU GPL 3 license. You can view the source code or watch it online. With systems claiming to be secure, Snapdrop gives you a sense of comfort. It’s like being in a restaurant with an unobstructed view of the kitchen.
Snapdrop runs in your browser, but the file transfers are done through your own network. It uses the Progressive Web Application and Web Real-Time Communications technologies. WebRTC allows processes running in browsers to use peer-to-peer communication. Traditional web application architecture requires the web server to establish communication between two browser sessions. WebRTC removes that bottleneck, reducing transmission times and increasing security. It also encrypts the communication flow.
You don’t need to sign up or create an account to use Snapdrop, and there is no login process. Just fire up your browser and go to the Snapdrop website.
You will see a minimalist web page. You are represented by an icon consisting of concentric circles at the bottom of the screen.
You are assigned a name that is formed by combining a randomly selected color and a type of animal. In this case we are the Aqua Basilisk. Until someone else joins, there’s not much we can do. Like someone else on the same network opens the Snapdrop website, they will appear on your screen.
The Ivory Louse uses the Chrome browser on a Windows computer connected to the same network as us. They are displayed in the center of the screen. As more computers join, they appear as a group of named icons.
The operating system and browser type are displayed for each connection. Sometimes Snapdrop can recognize the Linux distribution that a person is using. Failing that, a generic “Linux” label is used.
To initiate a file transfer to one of the other computers, click the computer icon or drag a file from a file browser onto the icon. Clicking the icon displays a file selection dialog.
Browse to the location of the file you want to send and select it. If you want to send many files, you can mark several at once. Click the “Open” button (off the screen in our screenshot) to send the file. A “File Receive” dialog box will appear on the destination computer to notify your recipient that a file has been sent to them.
They can choose to ignore or save the file. If they decide to save the file, a file browser will pop up so they can select where to save the file.
If the ‘Ask to save each file before downloading’ check box is checked, you will be prompted to select the location where you want to save each individual file. If not selected, all files in a single transmission will be saved in the same location as the first.
Surprisingly, there is no indication of where the file came from. But how do you know who the ivory louse or the blue chicken is? If you are in the same room, it is quite easy. If you are on different floors of the building, not so much.
It makes sense to let people know you’re sending them a file rather than just dropping one on them. If you right-click on a computer’s icon, you can send it a short message.
When you click the “Send” button, the message will appear on the target computer.
That way, the person you’re sending the file to won’t have to find out the Blue Chicken’s secret identity.
Snapdrop on Android
You can open the Snapdrop web app on your Android smartphone and it will work fine. If you’d rather have a dedicated app, one is available on the Google Play Store, but there is no app for iPhone or iPad. This is likely because iPhone users have AirDrop, but you can still use Snapdrop in a browser on an iPhone if you want.
The Android app is still under development. We had no issues using it when researching this article, but keep in mind that you may run into problems from time to time.
The interface is the same as the standard web browser interface. Tap an icon to send a file or long tap an icon to send someone a message.
With its minimalist, stripped-down design, Snapdrop doesn’t have many settings. Use the icons in the top right corner of your browser or Android app to access the settings (as they are).
The bell icon allows you to enable or disable system notifications. A dialog box will appear with two buttons in it. Click or tap the “Never allow” or “Allow notifications” button, depending on your preference.
The moon icon toggles dark mode on and off.
The information symbol – the small ‘i’ in a circle – gives you quick access to:
An elegant solution to a common problem
Sometimes you find yourself in situations where you have to find a solution that fits exactly within the technical comfort zone of the other. There is no reason anyone would find Snapdrop difficult to understand.
In fact, you will probably have to explain longer why they were baptized the Beige Capybara than you will have to explain what to do.