Using file sharing services for document sharing from Drupal and WordPress
The ITS Web Content Management Solution team recommends using "shared links" in a third-party cloud file sharing platforms, such as Box or SharePoint, for including documents in non-web formats (e.g. PDF, Word, or Excel) or large files such as high-resolution images in your website.
We do NOT recommend uploading those documents or files to your Drupal or WordPress site. While Drupal and WordPress do offer the ability to upload documents and share them from the site as links, file sharing platforms offer a better experience both for the site manager who must upload and maintain these files, as well as for the end-user clicking on a link to one of these files.
Advantages of using a file-sharing service
- Easy access restrictions for files
- Improved UX for managing file updates
- Improved UX for file viewing in the browser
- Transportability between website platforms
- Higher limits on maximum file size
- Higher storage quotas
Disadvantages of using a file-sharing service
Special note on streaming media: Media files such as movies and sound files should usually be served from a platform specifically designed for streaming media (e.g. Microsoft Stream, YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud). File sharing platforms such as Box and SharePoint will serve media files such as these via progressive download, which does not automatically adapt to the size of bandwidth of the user's device and results in an inferior user experience.
Both Box and SharePoint are offered as centrally funded services through ITS. Documentation for accessing/requesting these services is available on UT ServiceNow:
Instructions for creating shared links is available from each platform's public documentation:
Comparison of available file-sharing services
|Access restriction by EID||YES||YES|
|Access restriction by Active Directory Group||NO||YES|
|Revision history for files||YES||YES|
|File viewing in browser||YES||YES|
|High limit on single filesize||YES (50GB)||YES (250GB)|
|High overall storage limit||YES (unlimited)||YES (25TB)|
|Disable expiration on share links||YES||NO|
|Centrally funded (no usage charges)||YES||YES|
Advantages of using a third-party file sharing platform instead of uploading files to your Drupal or WordPress site:
Easy access restrictions for files
Permission to access files via share links can easily be managed using the built-in capabilities of platforms such as Box and SharePoint.
- Files shared using share links on UT Box or SharePoint can be restricted to current UT Faculty, Staff, or Students, or to specific lists of individuals
- Files shared from SharePoint can additionally be shared to customized or dynamic groups of individuals created and maintained through Austin Active Directory
Improved UX for managing file updates
Because Drupal and WordPress are not designed as document management systems, uploading a new revision of a file can be complicated and often results in the URL of the file changing in the process of updating the file. This can lead to multiple revisions of the same file being retained on the site, meaning that users with older URLs in an email, bookmark, or browser history can unintentionally retrieve outdated information.
Documents stored in Box or SharePoint can easily be updated with a new revision without changing the filename or the URL of the share link. Additionally, a complete revision history of the document is stored so that staff managing the content can view previous revisions and even revert to previous version of the file if needed.
Improved UX for file viewing in the browser
Files uploaded to Drupal or WordPress will usually be automatically downloaded to an end-user's computer when they click on a link for that file, requiring the user to take the additional step of opening the downloaded file in an application such as Adobe Acrobat Reader or Preview to access the contents.
For most common document types, share links for Box or SharePoint will open the linked document directly in the browser through a "viewer" provided by the platform, presenting the end-user with the content in fewer steps.
Transportability between website platforms
In the case of a future migration between website content management system platforms (e.g. Drupal 7 to Drupal 10, WordPress to Drupal, Drupal to WordPress), files shared from a third-party file sharing platform do not need to be moved, and their URLs will not change. This reduces the effort required for a site rebuild/migration and eliminates the risk of file URLs changing as part of that process.
Higher limits on maximum file size
The default PHP configurations of web hosting platforms such as Pantheon and UT Web have limits for the maximum file size which can be uploaded through the CMS interface with a web browser, which can make it difficult to upload large files to a site without using an alternate method such as SFTP or rsync. ITS' Enterprise-level plans with Box and SharePoint allow for much higher maximum size limits on a single file (50GB for Box, 250GB for SharePoint).
Pantheon also has a hard limit of 256MB for the size of any single file stored on their filesystem, regardless of how it is uploaded. See https://pantheon.io/docs/guides/filesystem/large-files#large-files for more information about large files on Pantheon.
Higher storage quotas
Pantheon has overall file storage limits based on the specifications of the selected site plan.
At this time, UT's Box service offers unlimited storage for departmental workgroup accounts. SharePoint sites have a 25TB limit per site.
Disadvantages of using a third-party file sharing platform instead of uploading files to your Drupal or WordPress site:
Less control over the URL of files
- The URL of files uploaded to a third-party platform may be longer and less "human readable" than the URL of a file uploaded to Drupal or WordPress
- File URLs can be customized to include a more "human readable" name using Box's "non-private custom URL" feature. For more information, see "What You Need to Know About Custom Shared URLs"
- The URL of files uploaded to a third-party platform will start with the domain of that service and will not include the domain of your Drupal or WordPress website (e.g. https://utexas.box.com/s/1ejq4k4j636wcs8todxc3i2v0dtrcio7 vs. https://example.utexas.edu/example-file-name)
- This can be mitigated with additional effort by creating redirects on the website which point to the URL of the share link (e.g. https://example.utexas.edu/example-file-name can redirect to https://utexas.box.com/s/1ejq4k4j636wcs8todxc3i2v0dtrcio7)
- When sharing files from UT Box, always use a "Departmental Box Account" rather than uploading files to a folder owned by an individual. See "Departmental UTBox" on the business service page for UT Box for details.
- For both Box and SharePoint, be aware of expiration dates on shared links:
- UT Box automatically sets a 30 day expiration date on shared links, which can be disabled.
- UT's SharePoint instance automatically sets a 365 day expiration date on shared links, which cannot be disabled.
- For documents that will be regularly updated, include a visible "last updated date" in the header of the document. Since shared links do not change with document revisions, a visible "last updated" indicator will help users understand whether they are viewing an updated document.