A Web-enabled device operating in a vacuum wouldn’t be much use. Our supercharged devices’ real usefulness lies in their ability to share data with other machines via the World Wide Web. If you want to explore the Internet, you’ll need a device that can interact with servers to upload and download data, like a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Both uploading and downloading involve a transfer of data, but what’s the difference? In broad terms, the difference between uploads and downloads has to do with where the data originates and where it’s going.
What is uploading?
An upload is a file transfer that begins with data you already have and involves your computer sending data. When you upload a file, your computer sends the data to another computer. Usually, the other computer involved is a server, a larger system dedicated to managing incoming data and fulfilling users’ data requests. The server then stores your data away for access later.
What is downloading?
A download is a file transfer that you request, usually from a server, with your computer receiving data. Clicking “download” prompts your computer to request data from the server. The data could be in form of a photo, a music file, a document, or any other file type.
Downloading media is not the same as streaming it. A download creates a copy of the file on your computer that you can access later, while streaming allows you to view a temporary file (stored in your computer’s RAM) while the data transfer is in progress. That’s why sometimes your song or video stops to buffer, when the data doesn’t transmit fast enough.
Your computer also routinely downloads files to make Web pages you’ve visited before load more quickly, by having the images and other media pre-loaded when you access the page again in a short period of time. This is called caching. You can manually clear your cache if you choose to – see guides for Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Firefox – but cached files are actually useful for your browser’s performance. Clearing them is unlikely to make your computer “run faster.”
Upload vs. Download Speed
Most popular Web-related activities depend upon adequate download speed. That’s why internet service providers emphasize download speed differences between service tiers. In fact, the vast majority of internet subscription plans offer more download speed than upload speed. If you often have a long wait when sending an email or sharing photos on social media, you may want to consider upgrading to a plan that offers more upload speed.