I've seen both these forms used and I was wondering, is either of them incorrect or are they interchangeable?

You can download something ON your device.

You can download something ONTO your device.

  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – mplungjan
    Aug 22, 2013 at 12:50
  • 4
    I would use neither, I download thing to devices.
    – terdon
    Aug 22, 2013 at 12:52
  • 1
    One of the many senses of the preposition on is (6.) being performed upon or relayed through the medium of: what's on the television? (Collins). So on could be taken to mean 'using' (your device) ('I've accessed it on my laptop') or 'onto' (your device). Aug 22, 2013 at 12:53
  • @mplungjan books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Kris
    Aug 22, 2013 at 13:26
  • 1
    @tchrist, in the sense that it is in the dictionaries, ‘onto’ certainly is a word. I would download a file onto (or on to) a device sooner than I would download it to the device—I would only use the latter if talking about a PlayStation, AppleTV, or perhaps a phone. For a computer, disk/drive, flash card, USB stick, etc., I would find ‘to’ awkward and unnatural. Aug 22, 2013 at 23:45

3 Answers 3


I work on my computer.

I download data/files to (or onto) my computer.

I upload files / send e-mails from my computer.

  • One copies files from one place and to another. What and whether you call it {up,down}loading doesn’t change that at all.
    – tchrist
    Aug 22, 2013 at 23:30
  • @tchrist I agree that 'copy' covers either direction, but up/down-loading depends at which 'end' of the copying you are located: If you are at the source computer, you are uploading; and if you are at the destination computer you are downloading: analogous to whether you are sending or receiving an e-mail.
    – TrevorD
    Jun 23, 2017 at 15:06

The difference is that on denotes the device I'm interacting with, and onto denotes the destination for the received data. The confusion may arise because in the first case below (interacting with the destination device), the two are implicitly the same.

  1. I use a device directly, initiating a download using its own interface or controls, I am downloading on it. That download is almost certainly being stored onto the same device where I initiate it.

  2. I attach a device to a PC, and initiate a download on the PC to be stored on the attached device, I am downloading on the PC and storing it onto the device.


The act of downloading is to effectively copy a file from one place (normally on the internet somewhere) to your local machine. In this case, if you're saving the file on your desktop for example, the correct usage would be ONTO as that refers to the location of where you are downloading it to.

However, you are using the to device to download... to technically you are downloading on a device too. I would always use ONTO.

Would it work if you were referring to uploading? "You can upload something on your device" vs. "You can upload something onto your device".

  • Anything in support? More 'opinions' may come down for the post following this. Also, "You can upload something from your device".
    – Kris
    Aug 22, 2013 at 13:22

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