I wonder what you are all using for sharing files with your most beloved friends. Up until recently, I used the classical methods: either a P2P software like oDC or the more comfortable alternative, an instant messenger. No matter the high connection speed at both ends, the transfer still seemed slow. It was only natural, as the files had to pass through a server and then they were redirected to the right destination. And the transfer speed was undoubtedly influenced by the capacities of the middle server making the connection between the computers.
Making your computer a FTP server is a great solution, but things would just get more complicated. It would be easier if you could post all the files you need on a web server and all your friends could just download the files from there.
HFS (or HTTP File Server) enables you to do just that. The application turns your computer into a web server and all the files you wish to share are available for download on a web page. You have to admit that this sounds extremely appealing. Putting this in practice is even easier than you think.
HFS is a very easy to use freeware that instantly creates a web server with a double click of the mouse. It is a single executable that does not need to be installed (so it is highly portable) and enables you to share your files by simply dragging and dropping them into the corresponding window. Everything that the other user has to do in order to download the files is access your web page and browse through the folders to the desired file.
The interface is nice and simple and can be accessed in two modes: Easy and Expert. If you are not feeling confident in yourself you should try the application in Easy mode, although there are some limitations like the lack of Virtual File System menu (the content of your disk is reflected on the web page), Flash Task Button options, Fingerprints, URL Encoding, IP to accept connections on (in case your computer is part of more than one network) or DNS updater.
Virtual File System Window is where you add the files to be shared. A simple drag and drop will suffice. On the right, there is the Log window which records all the activities from the trivial updating of the application to login times, download/uploads requests and completions. Besides the time and date of the event, there will be recorded usernames and IPs that initiate the action.
To allow you to stay online until all the downloads are finished,
the application makes available a window displaying all the current connections. Details like the IP getting the files, name of the downloaded file, status, speed of the task and estimated time left are all part of this window.
Despite the application being quite lightweight, its menu is quite fertile. It allows you to test your connection in order to see if everything will go as planned (in case you are behind a firewall port forwarding is needed); it also includes options for customizing the generated HTML page, create user accounts for downloading/uploading files or limiting speed and maximum number of connections.
As HFS does not need to be installed on the computer, this makes it a portable application that can be run from your USB thumb with absolutely no problem. However, if you want to take its portability feature all the way, you can configure HFS to store all the settings in an INI file instead of the registry. The trick can be done by choosing Save Options in the menu to file.
The application does not fall short of protecting the files from being downloaded by others than your friends either. You can create as many accounts as you want and give access only to those providing the right credentials. The message conveyed by Restrict Access menu available at right clicking one of the folders in Virtual File System window is that you can prevent all the existing accounts from downloading the shared files. But that option in fact grants access to all existing accounts, restricting any outsider.
More than this, the application allows selective access to each of the shared files or folders. Thus, you can lift download restrictions to some of the accounts and prevent the rest from downloading them. This way you can control who downloads what with absolutely no problem.
IP-based restrictions are also available as HFS permits you to ban the entire sets of IPs. The Ban tab in Options provides the inverse logic alternative. Usually, when trying to ban a list of IPs you simply write them down in the list and that is it. With inverse logic, it happens exactly the opposite: only the IPs in the list are allowed access and all the rest are restricted.
Besides regular downloading of the files, all the other users can also upload files of their own. But only if you want it. And this option can also be limited only to some users. The main condition to enable file upload is to turn the folders into real folders, not virtual ones that merely reflect what you have on disk. Real folders benefit from the exact same advantages as virtual folders do, only that they permit uploading.
Regardless of your connection speed, at one point or another, your computer will feel the strain and start slowing down (especially on upload). Or maybe you want to download something from the Internet while your friends are downloading some shared files. In this case, you can impose some limitations to restrict the activity to a certain speed, set a maximum number of total connections or from a single address, define the value for the maximum simultaneous downloads etc. The connection management is complete.
HTTP File Server is very easy to use, and the fact that it does not require installation makes it even better. It gives you the possibility of saving all the settings to a file which makes it highly portable. The only flaw is the confusion created by Restrict Access options in folder context menu.The Good
Highly configurable, HFS makes for a very comfortable alternative to share your files. It is a better way to share the files as the downloader can use download managers to speed up the transfer of the files.
Despite its lightweight, HTTP File Server comes with a myriad of options ranging from redesigning the web page yourself to managing connections and imposing restrictions to users.
In the Accounts area of the Options menu you can see every file/folder a user has access to and their passwords.
You have total control over the files, user restrictions, IP addresses allowed to download, file transfer speeds and on top of these you can also customize the HTML template. All the other users need to receive your files is a web browser.The Bad
Confusing Restrict Access menu option and the available alternatives should definitely be rephrased as it is misleading.The Truth
Sharing your files is easier and faster, as you can turn your own computer into a web server and shorten the distance to the destination of the files.
HFS is highly configurable and portable and, what is more important is that it is 100% freeware. The help files will give answers to all your questions and explain the less common ones.Here are some snapshots of the application in action: