I know what it means to download something from a website or upload a video to YouTube. But do the terms "download" and "upload" only apply when referring to one device transferring data to another remote device over the Internet (or LAN even)?

Say I was transferring a file to my USB flash drive or copying a file from one HDD to another HDD. Would this technically be considered downloading/uploading?

4 Answers 4


Yes, technically if could be considered downloading/uploading, but if you use it that way it may get confusing.

Downloading/uploading is generally used when you connect the computer to a distant source, for example a server on internet. If you use it for small devices, it's not as obvious which direction is up or down.

If you for example have a network storage unit in your network, it's not at all clear if it should be considered as a server or a storage device, and uploading would have completely different meaning depending on what definition you choose.

  • Yes, and the newer term sideload is sometimes used for describing transferring data to smaller devices, for example transferring podcasts from a PC to your MP3 player.
    – Hugo
    Nov 15, 2011 at 11:49
  • I have to disagree here as a chosen answer. I agree with @Hugo in relation to device size as a way of looking at it, but it more has to do with source / destination of the data. If your computer is the source of the data (has the stuff you want) and you copy it to your USB key, you are downloading the information to your USB key. Simple saying copy is also correct. May 19, 2016 at 15:16
  • @RickHenderson: Normally when your computer is the source you would upload the data, so if the source / destination matters then I don't see a logical reason for it to become download when the destination is an USB device instead of a network server. That said, I don't find it very clear to call it an upload either.
    – Guffa
    May 21, 2016 at 14:51
  • @Guffa I didn't say it was clear. I'm stating the common and proper use.:) Your point of confusion then switches from "source/destination" to "local/remote". The USB device is on "your side" and the network server is "away from you" or "on the other side" of a network connection. May 30, 2016 at 15:25
  • @RickHenderson: By adding the source/destination perspective to the local/remote perspective you create new expressions with other meaning than just "upload" and "download". You get "upload to", "upload from", download to" and "download from", which doesn't make it clearer. I don't think that it's useful to mix the source/destination perspective with the local/remote perspective, so I rather suggest the use something like "transfer from" and "transfer to" if you want to use the source/destination perspective.
    – Guffa
    Jun 3, 2016 at 8:07

Dictionary.com defines download as

verb (used with object) Computers.

to transfer (software, data, character sets, etc.) from a distant to a nearby computer, from a larger to a smaller computer, or from a computer to a peripheral device.

So yes, copying a file from your computer to flash drive or external HDD is downloading, but copying it from one HDD inside your computer to another also inside your computer is not.

  • That's not to mention the slang usage for "knowledge transfer". I think the terms are applied almost anywhere there is a transfer to a device/location/person who may now be assumed to have a copy of the information.
    – JeffSahol
    Nov 15, 2011 at 12:02

Note that, upload and download (usually) refer to exchange of information between a local system and a remote system. Also, in the context of the systems involved, the terms local and remote are independent of size, distance or the utility of the object. They may be close or far or even the same box (ex: two hard drives in the same system). The terms - upload and download - are therefore generic in nature.

A transfer from local system to remote system is called upload where as from remote to local system is called download.


Download and upload mean the act of copying data between to different technical entities. Those entities can be personal computers, hard disks, servers, USB sticks, any kind of computer or storage media in general.

"Download" or "upload" greatly depends on where the speaker stands mentally while talking about the copy process. If he is, so to say, speaking for his USB stick, he would download data to it. However, if he was speaking for his computer, he would upload it to the USB stick.

As the user's intention is to copy something to the USB stick that isn't there already, the natural point of view for the speaker/writer would be that of the USB stick and he would download data to it.

  • I know what "download" and "upload" mean, that's not my question. I'm asking if the terms could technically be used in non-network data transfers.
    – Jack
    Nov 16, 2011 at 5:25
  • 1
    Yes, as I have mentioned, you can use it to express a directed data transfer between two technical entities.
    – Raku
    Nov 16, 2011 at 15:54
  • In my opinion, one copies data from one location to another in the same computer, while uploads/downloads data to/from another computer. The gray area between "just peripheral" and "different computer" is growing as peripherals are more and more smart and independent, and data gets more and more distributed. I would compare this to moving stuff from storage to another versus sending stuff to another address (another recipient).
    – diynevala
    May 19, 2016 at 8:57

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