Using Amazon S3 to share files

Amazon S3 is an online storage facility.  It’s cheap and easy to set up, has unlimited storage and bandwidth and no initial charges or setup costs.  Here are some Amazon S3 FAQs if you want to know more.  Using Amazon S3 you can easily store and share files for others to download or view using authenticated URL links.

1.  Create an AWS account

To use Amazon S3 you will need to create an AWS account.  Go to and follow the instructions.

You will receive an email with all the information you need to get started, including a link to the AWS Management Console.

Once you’re logged in you’ll need to open the S3 service under the Storage & Content Delivery section.

(You can add this to the menu bar for easy access by clicking on the Edit menu, then dragging the service to the menu bar).

2.  Use the S3 Management Console to manage your files

Objects are organised into “buckets” and within these buckets, files can be organised into folders.  You navigate this S3 interface using the breadcrumbs.

To display the properties of a file, select the file in the left-hand pane, then click on the Properties button on the right.  Each object has a unique, user-assigned key, or authenticated URL which makes it easy and secure to share files.

Create a Bucket

To create a new bucket, click on the Create Bucket button, enter a name for the bucket, choose a Region from the list, then click on Create.

Create a Folder

To create a folder, click on the Create Folder button and give the folder a name.

Upload a File

To upload a file, open the bucket or folder to which you want to upload your file/s, then click on the Upload button.  You can add files for uploading by dragging and dropping the files or folders to this upload screen, or by clicking on Add Files.  You can upload multiple files at one time using the Add Files option, but if you want to add folders you will need to use the drag and drop option.

Note:  You will need to have an up-to-date version of Java installed to be able to use the drag and drop option.

Click on Start Upload to start the process.

Set Access Permissions

By default, all new buckets and folders are secured to the owner/creator.  To change these permissions, select the file or folder you want to give access to, then click on the Make Public option under the Actions menu.

Share a file

Locate and select the file you want to share, then copy the authenticated URL link from the Properties pane on the right.

3.  Install and use a cloud storage tool

Alternatively, you can install a cloud storage tool which provides a much more user-friendly interface for managing the files in your Amazon S3 account.  There are a number of cloud storage tools available.  I’m going to cover CloudBerry Explorer which is a Windows product.  You can download this freeware here.

Connect your Amazon S3 account to CloudBerry

Once you’ve installed CloudBerry, open the application, go to the File menu and select “Amazon S3 Account”.  Double-click on the New Account icon, enter any display name you like, then enter your Amazon S3 Access key and Secret key details.  (This information is available under “Security Credentials” in the user menu at the top right of the screen in your AWS Management Console).

Manage files and folders

Instead of computer “drives”, Amazon S3 has “buckets”.  Before you can start storing files, you’ll need to create a bucket to store your files in.

Create a Bucket

To create a new bucket, click on the New Bucket icon on the toolbar in the cloud pane.  Give your bucket a name (between 3 and 255 characters in length).  Of note, you cannot rename a bucket, but you can create as many buckets as you like.  As Amazon S3 has one name-space for all bucket names, you will need to choose a unique name for your bucket that no-one else has chosen.  You can also choose a location where your bucket will be stored – more information about this is available here.

Set Access Permissions

All new buckets have “private access” only permissions.  To change these permissions, click on the ACL Settings icon on the toolbar.  This dialogue box has a number of options, including adding individual user email information and the option to apply access permissions to all subfolders and files.

Upload Files

Once you’ve created a bucket, you can upload files directly into the bucket, or you can add folders and sub-folders to store your files in.  To create a new folder, click on the New Folder icon on the toolbar.

By default, the pane on the left in CloudBerry Explorer displays your S3 buckets and stored files, and the pane on the right shows your local computer files, although you can adjust these locations to suit, or open up multiple tabs and work on more than one operation at a time.

You can drag and drop files from your computer to the S3 account, or you can choose to transfer files between Amazon S3 accounts by changing the Root directly.  You can also select files and use the toolbar options (or right-click options) to Copy or Move the files.

You can monitor the progress of your upload by showing the Queue at the bottom or the screen, and use the refresh button to refresh the display.

Share files

Once you’ve uploaded files to S3, you can share the files with anyone who has access permissions by generating a Web URL.  Select the file you want to share, then click on Web URL on the toolbar.

Select the option Generate short url using (set an expiration date and time if necessary), then click on Generate.

2 thoughts on “Using Amazon S3 to share files

  1. Awesome post! I didn’t even realise there were any viable alternatives to Dropbox, Google Drive or Onedrive (the first and second of which I use regularly, after a disappointing trial with Onedrive) – thanks for sharing these tips, makes it much easier to get started to have somebody I trust provide an overview.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ant. I put together this information for a client for exactly this reason after realising that Amazon S3 was not particularly intuitive to use.

      However, I was so impressed with this alternative to Dropbox once I worked out how to use it that I intend to keep using it for my own purposes.

      I’m really glad you found this overview useful.

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