File sharing

File sharing

Setting up a collaborative research environment

Collaborative research brings with it the need for the sharing of information, documents and data, in a controlled, organised and managed way, often across several organisations or institutions. This can be challenging if it is not properly managed.

Below is a list of typical requirements for researchers working in a collaborative environment.

  • Storage and the sharing of documents, plus data files.
  • The ability to organise documents and data files into folders.
  • An access control system, which allows authentication and authorisation to be easily managed.
  • Version control of documents and data files.
  • File locking to prevent users from simultaneously working on the same file.
  • Ideally, a discussion platform utilising a forum or wiki format.

Available options for setting up a collaborative research environment


  • An institutional or departmental drive where secure access can be provided to external researchers – for example, a share accessed via a virtual private network (VPN).

    Advantages: One institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control.Disadvantages: Access control is difficult to manage and there may be resistance to allowing external people to have access.

  • A secure file transfer (SFTP) server.

    Advantages: One institution responsible for set-up, storage, backup and access control. Integrated access control independent of the institutions Active Directory.Disadvantages: Possible reluctance to allowing external people access.

  • A Virtual Research Environment (VRE) or portal environment, such as Basecamp, Huddle, Clinked or MS Sharepoint.

    Advantages: Secure workspace, with a customisable content management system.

    Disadvantages: Basecamp, Huddle and Clinked are web-based.
  • Cloud-based file-sharing services, such as Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, SpiderOak,¬† or Tresorit.

    Advantages: Easy to set up and use.

    Disadvantages: Limited storage, plus security concerns over where the files and backups are kept.

  • A data repository, such as DSpace, Fedora, Eprints, CKAN or cloud-based figshare.

    Advantages: One institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control.Disadvantages: Lacks full customisation.

For file transmission, the UK Data Service uses a locally hosted SFTP server. Files containing sensitive or personal information should be encrypted before upload, ideally using PGP.