Downloading files from the Internet: frequently asked questions

Here are answers to some common questions about downloading files from the Internet.

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What does it mean to download a file?

When you download a file, you transfer it from the Internet to your computer. The most commonly downloaded files are programs, updates, or other kinds of files such as game demos, music and video files, or documents. Downloading can also mean copying information from any source to a computer or other device, such as copying your favorite songs to a portable music player.

What are the risks when downloading files?

Whenever you download a file, there is always a small risk that the file will contain a virus or a program that can damage your computer or your information. Here are some precautions you can take to help protect your computer when you download files:

  • Install and use an antivirus program. Antivirus programs scan files before opening them and notify you if a file is potentially unsafe. Be sure to keep your antivirus program up to date. For more information, see How can I help protect my computer from viruses?

  • Only download files from websites that you trust. For more information, see When to trust a website.

  • If a file contains a digital signature, make sure that the signature is valid and the files is from a trusted location. If it's not, don't open the file. To see the digital signature, click the publisher link in the security dialog box that Internet Explorer displays when you first download the file. The digital signature information tells you whether the file is valid or not. For more information, see What is a digital signature?

  • Be cautious of certain file types. Some file types are less safe because they can carry viruses. The main file types to avoid are program files with extensions such as .exe, .scr, .bat, .com, or .pif. Often, a potentially dangerous file is disguised as a less risky file type, because it has two file name extensions, such as filename.txt.exe. This example might look like a text file, but it's actually an executable file.

What's the risk of letting websites open programs on my computer?

The risk is that untrusted addresses or documents could contain malicious content, which, when opened by programs external to Internet Explorer, could potentially harm your computer. For more information on the risk, see What's the risk of letting websites open programs on my computer?

Why do I get so many warnings when I download a file?

These messages provide information to help you decide whether a file is okay to download or open. They give you a chance to cancel downloading a file if you don't trust the source, or to make sure that the file isn't downloaded without your knowledge or permission.

Can I download more than one file at a time?

Yes. Windows will allow you to download multiple files, with a separate progress window for each. The performance of your computer might vary with the speed of your Internet connection, or the servers you're downloading from.

Where are downloaded files saved?

When you download files, Windows usually saves them in the Downloads folder, which is located under your user name in the Users folder on the drive where Windows is installed (for example C:\users\your name\downloads). When you are saving the file, you can choose to save it to a different folder. Some different types of files are saved to different folders by default. For example, if you right-click a picture on a webpage and then choose Save Picture As from the menu, the picture will be saved to the Pictures folder by default. If you're not sure where the file was saved, you can search for it from the Start menu.

I am trying to install a program I downloaded. Why am I getting errors?

Some errors can be caused by the Windows installer software. For information about errors and how to troubleshoot the problem, go online to read Knowledge Base article KB229683.

Why can't I open some files such as PDF documents in Internet Explorer?

Internet Explorer uses add-ons such as the Adobe Reader to view some files in the browser. You might have an older version of the add-on which needs to be updated to work with a newer version of Internet Explorer. Visit the website for the viewer that isn't working to download an update.

Why does it take so long to download a file?

  • Your connection might be slow. If you have a dial-up connection, it takes a lot longer to download files than if you have a broadband connection, such as DSL or cable.

  • Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) might be offline or experiencing heavy Internet traffic. Wait a while, and then try again.

  • If you are on a corporate network, the network settings might be the problem. Check with your system administrator.

  • If you use a file or music-sharing program, someone might be downloading a file from your computer. Try disabling file-sharing services while you're downloading and see if the process gets faster.

  • You might have too many programs open at the same time. Try closing unnecessary programs.

  • Your computer might have spyware running. Try scanning your computer for spyware. For more information about removing spyware, see Remove spyware from your computer.

  • Missing updates can affect your computer's performance. Go to the Windows Update website and check for updates.

What happens if a file I'm downloading gets interrupted or I need to pause and finish later? Do I have to start over?

Yes, you might need to start over. If you stop in the middle of downloading a file, it is possible that all of the necessary files might not be successfully transferred to your computer.

Can I cancel downloading a file if it's taking too long?

Yes. You can cancel a download at any time by clicking the Cancel button.

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