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Should we show the file size of downloads linked on a web page?

For download sites (e.g. file hosting services), the answer is obviously yes. But what about websites that offer downloads only occasionally? So they don’t have a separate download page, they link directly to the files (inline). Think of …

  • a blog post "I recorded my first song" (→ MP3)
  • a company site "See our full product catalog" (→ PDF)
  • a forum thread "Bugfix patch for Pacman" (→ ZIP)
  • a Stack Exchange answer "Here is a screencast" (→ WEBM)

I wonder:

  • Does it matter if the file will be downloaded vs. shown in browser?
  • Only show it for files that are exceptionally big (e.g. a 10 MB PDF, a 3 MB JPG)? Exceptionally small (e.g. a 500 KB MP3), too?
  • Exact vs. rounded file size?
  • Only use one unit for all downloads (e.g. Megabyte only: 1 MB, 0.1 MB, 0.01 MB, 1280 MB)?
  • Should the file size information be part of the linked text, or could it appear as unlinked text after/below the link?
  • Should the file size information get a label or is it clear by context (thanks to using parenthesis and a file size unit?)?

Related questions:

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3 Answers 3

  • Does it matter if the file will be downloaded vs. shown in browser?

A good thing to keep in mind is the performance and user experience of viewing the file in browser vs on computer. Depending on your audience people use different browsers and older browsers which are not good at handling a decent PDF form too. After debating on this, you should decide which route to follow. Remember performance will (almost always) be better locally, just see how much of a difference it is. Nielsen article on similar topic.

  • Only show it for files that are exceptionally big (e.g. a 10 MB PDF, a 3 MB JPG)? Exceptionally small (e.g. a 500 KB MP3), too?

Consistency is a key element of UX. Since you have files on both ends, I would recommend showing the size all the time.

  • Exact vs. rounded file size?

For the most part I do not see the problem with rounded file sizes, specially if your audience is non technical.

  • Only use one unit for all downloads (e.g. Megabyte only: 1 MB, 0.1 MB, 0.01 MB, 1280 MB)?

While using a single unit has it merits, I would do some user testing to decide on this. I feel that just limiting to 2 units might also be a good alternative.

  • Should the file size information be part of the linked text, or could it appear as unlinked text after/below the link?

As long as it is clearly visible before the user starts the download, it should be fine outside the anchor.

  • Should the file size information get a label or is it clear by context (thanks to using parenthesis and a file size unit?)?

Being explicit never hurts, mention file size ... if you have the screen space / no other constraints preventing you from doing it.


All my answers are observations/opinions. Do user testing with your audience to finalize the direction.

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I've personally exited many pdfs after realizing they're much larger than I wanted to download, or the document itself larger than what I wanted to sift through to find the information I need. Any time I download something, I expect to see a file size to have some idea how long this will take. That said something like a restaurant menu in pdf likely won't be too long of a wait, or an excess of unnecessary information, and wouldn't bother me if no file size was listed. Still, in those cases, the fact that it's a menu already tells me it's small. /annecdotal personal experiences –  Eric Aug 6 '13 at 15:30

Do not bother showing the file size. Exception made with really large files (definition of really large depending on your audience).

It is now easy to undo downloads. If it is too large then the user is going to stop the download and that is it.

What type of file it is is much more interesting for the user because she is going to expect the way it is going to open, and only her can do that.

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  1. Choice of Downloading or Viewing in browser should be left to user.

  2. Information about the file size and type of file is very useful for the user no matter how big or small it is. The units should be appropriately followed, like, till 1MB, it can be shown in KBs, till 1GB, it can be shown in MBs etc. Rounding File size is not a disadvantage. It should NOT be shown as part of link text.

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