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Tips on sharing your data with collaborators

When your collaborators work on-site with you and you have access to a network, your best option is usually to use a shared file space for your project's data, analyses, and papers. You can prevent the irritating problems of puzzling file names and convoluted folder trees by agreeing on common ways for naming files, organising directories, documenting files, and sharing files between project members.

If your collaborators are at different institutions, sharing files and maintaining coherent versions can be a major headache (or even cause serious errors in your analysis or results). Agreeing on how to handle file sharing (below) and tracking versions can save you time and frustration.

 

Why should I make a formal plan for sharing files with collaborators?

Sharing raw data, derived materials, drafts, and other files between collaborators in different locations can quickly become a mess - clogging your in-box with enormous files, creating confusing problems with versions of files, or compromising the security of your information. 

A clear plan for file sharing will help you simplify the process, and limit your frustration and data risks. Some solutions have the added benefit of providing remote access or automatic backup. 

 

What are my best options for sharing files with external partners?

First check if your department/research group/organisation/project already have written file transfer & security guidelines or requirements.

Otherwise, here are several options for file sharing: 

1.   Secure online file transfer through your department

This is a good option if you are sharing large or sensitive files. Ask your department’s computing staff or techies: “Is there a way to post files securely online (e.g. SFTP) to share them with my collaborators?”

Pros:

  • Usually very secure
  • Does not clog your e-mail outbox/inbox
  • Reasonably fast

Cons:

  • May not be available to you
  • May be troublesome if you are dealing with larger numbers of files or many versions of files

 

2.   CamTools

A fairly good solution for file sharing. CamTools is designed for teaching at Cambridge, but the administrators will give CamTools sites to research projects (and you can also give access to external collaborators). It provides space for folders and files, has an e-mail 'announcements' capability, and a wiki function. You can even control permissions for specific people to access specific folders. For information, visit Camtools' Help and Support' site. 

Pros:

  • shared remote access to files
  • many functions
  • customiseable
  • fairly secure

Cons:

  • requires some investment of time to take full advantage of its features
  • possible to over-write file versions if you are not careful
  • will be discontinued in 2015

3.   E-mail

Transferring files by e-mail takes up extra space, causes version confusion, and is insecure, but you probably do it anyway – it is very convenient, and we know you have got deadlines. If you do use e-mail for file sharing, here is what we recommend: 

  • one individual should be responsible for keeping track of the latest version of the file(s)
  • if possible – keep a running document with the file names/versions, authors and dates
  • always encrypt sensitive information! E-mail is not secure!
  • detach or delete attachments from your e-mail outbox (and, ideally your inbox) – these can eat up space quickly

Pros:  

  • fast
  • easy
  • secure when encrypted and password provided separately from e-mail

Cons:

  • can be messy, easy to garble versions
  • limited space
  • insecure if not encrypted