Downloading and Preparing Files

One of the best things about the Web is that you can download files from it. These files can be applications, graphics, MP3 files, text files, updaters, or any other file you can think of. Downloading files is simple; the only two areas that might give you some trouble are finding the files that you download and preparing them for use.

The general process for downloading and preparing files is the following:

  1. Locate the file you want to use.

  2. Download the file to your Mac.

  3. Prepare the file for use by decoding and uncompressing it.


Because of Mac OS X's Unix underpinnings, this step can be a little more complicated than it has been in past versions of the OS. Fortunately, most of this time, this process is relatively automatic. You have to intervene manually only infrequently.

There are two basic ways to download files. You can use a Web browser to download files or you can use an FTP client to download files from FTP and other sites. Using a Web browser to download files is simpler, but it is also slower. A dedicated FTP client can dramatically speed up file downloading.

For information about configuring and using the Interarchy FTP application, see "Downloading Files Better with Interarchy," p. 359.

Configuring a Downloads Folder

By default, your Web browser will store files you download in the Desktop folder in your Home directory (and thus, they appear on your desktop). If this isn't where you want downloaded files to be stored, it is a good idea to create a folder into which your Web browser will always download files. That way, you will always know where to find the files that you download, and they won't clutter your desktop.


Because a directory is modified when you store files in it, you must use a directory that you have permissions to write to. On your Mac OS X startup volume, you are limited to downloading files to a directory within your Home directory. However, you can choose a file outside your Mac OS X startup volume if you want.

If you want other users of your machine to be able to access the files you download, you can use your Public folder as your downloads folder.

There are two ways to specify a downloads folder. If you use the System Preferences utility, you can specify a downloads folder for all of your Internet applications to use. You can also set a downloads folder from within the applications themselves.

Setting a Global Downloads Folder

To set a global downloads folder, use the following steps:

  1. Create the folder you want to use as your downloads folder in the location in which you want to store it.

  2. Open the System Preferences utility.

  3. Click the Internet icon to open the Internet pane.

  4. Click the Web tab.

  5. Use the Select button to choose the folder you created in Step 1.

  6. Quit the System Preferences utility.


Setting a downloads folder in the System Preferences utility doesn't always get carried into the particular applications you use. For example, setting a download folders page in the System Preferences utility does not set the downloads folder in Internet Explorer?you have to set the downloads folder within Internet Explorer itself.

Setting the Downloads Folder from within Internet Explorer

You can also select a downloads folder from within a Web browser, such as Internet Explorer.

  1. Create the folder you want to use for your downloads.

  2. Open the Internet Explorer Preferences window.

  3. Click Download Options. You will see three panes containing controls you can use to configure file downloading.

  4. Click Change Location.

  5. Use the Choose a Folder dialog box to move to and choose the folder you want to use.

  6. Make sure that the "Always download files to the download folder" radio button is selected.

  7. Click OK to close the Internet Explorer Preferences window.

Downloading Files Using Internet Explorer's Download Manager

Downloading files is as simple as anything gets on the Mac. Internet Explorer uses its Download Manager window to work with files you are downloading. Just click the download link for the file you want to download.


You can download multiple files at the same time. Start one; then, move back to a Web window and move to the next and start it downloading.

You can also continue to browse the Web while your files are downloading. The speed will decrease a bit (or a lot if you are using a dial-up Internet account), but at least you can do something while the file is downloading.

Some sites simply provide the file's name as its link, whereas others provide a Download button. Whatever way it is done, finding the link to click to begin the download process is usually simple.

After you click the link to begin the download, the Download Manager window will open and in it you will see the progress of the file you are downloading (see Figure 13.9). For each file, you will see its name, the download status, the time it took to download, and the amount of data that was transferred.

Figure 13.9. The Download Manager window provides the information and tools you need to manage your downloads.



You can change the column widths in the Download Manager window by pointing to the line between columns, pressing the mouse button, and dragging.


If you use a slow Internet connection, such as a dial-up account, downloading large files can take a long time. If the process is interrupted for some reason, you might have to start all over again. In some cases, you can resume the download (you'll learn how later in this section).

After the download is complete, Internet Explorer will try to prepare the file that downloaded so that you can use it. Much of the time, this works automatically, but in some situations, you will have to perform this task manually. This process can be somewhat complicated depending on the file you download.

For information on manually preparing downloaded files for use, see "Preparing Files for Use," p. 350.


A quick way to switch windows is by pressing graphics/symbol.gif+~. This is a good way to jump between the Download Manager window and your other Web windows. You can also move directly into the Download Manager by pressing graphics/symbol.gif+4.

In order for your files to be automatically processed after download, you can configure the Download Manager using the Internet Explorer Preferences window.

  1. Open the Internet Explorer Preferences window and click Download Options.

  2. Use the controls in the Download Manager Options pane to configure the Download Manager.

    • Use the Maximum number of concurrent downloads pop-up menu to set how many files you can download at the same time. The default value is 4. If you have a fast connection, such as a DSL or cable modem, you can set this higher. If you use a phone modem, you might want to set the number lower because trying to push too much data through a phone modem can cause problems for you.

    • By default, the Download Manager "remembers" the preceding 10 items you downloaded. This can be useful when you need to recover a downloaded file or when you need to download it again. However, you might prefer that items you have downloaded be removed from the Download Manager window so that you see only the items you are currently downloading. Use the two radio buttons in the Download Manager Options pane to choose which you prefer. If you choose to have Internet Explorer remember the list, you can enter the number of downloads that it should remember using the text box.

    • The bottom two check boxes determine whether Internet Explorer attempts to automatically decode files of specific types. You should usually leave these checked.

  3. Click OK when you are done.

You can use tools in the Download Manager window to work with files you have downloaded, or were trying to download. For example, if something happens while you are trying to download a file, you can attempt to reload it. To work with files you have downloaded from the Download Manager window, select the file and choose File, Get Info (graphics/symbol.gif+I). The info window for the item will open (see Figure 13.10).

Figure 13.10. A downloading item's info window provides tools you can use to work with it while it is being downloaded or after the download process is complete.


The info window enables you to do the following:

  • Edit the file's name in the File name box.

  • Click the Reveal in Finder button to show the item in a Finder window. If you have set Internet Explorer to always use a downloads folder, this isn't so useful, but it can be a timesaver if you don't know where the file was stored when you downloaded it. Click the button and you will jump to a Finder window that contains the item.

  • Change the location to which the file will be downloaded using the Change button (this is disabled while a file is being downloaded).

  • View the address from which you downloaded the file in the Address box.

  • Use the check box to determine whether a helper application is automatically used.

  • Monitor the status of the download or cancel it using the Status area.

  • Download the file again. After a file has been downloaded, the Status area shows complete and the Cancel button becomes the Reload button. Click this button to download the file again. You can also use this to resume a download that has been interrupted for some reason.


You can use the tools in the Info window to work together. For example, to save a file that you have downloaded to another place, open its info window, use the Change button to save it in a new location, and then click Reload to download it again.

Preparing Files for Use

Most files you download are encoded and compressed. Encoding is the process of translating an application or other file into a plain text file so that it can be transferred across the Internet. Compressing a file is a process that makes the file's size smaller so that it can be transferred across the Internet more quickly.

Before you can use a file you have downloaded, it must be decoded and it might also need to be uncompressed. Depending on the kind of file it is, these two actions might be done at the same time or they might have to be handled separately. An application is required for both tasks; most of the time a single application can handle them while occasionally the file might need to be uncompressed with one application and decoded with another.

Understanding File Extensions for Compressed Files

Knowing what will happen in any situation requires that you understand the types of files you are likely to download. You can determine this by the filename extension. The most common extensions with which you will have to deal are listed in Table 13.1.

Table 13.1. Common File Extensions for Compressed or Encoded Mac Files
File Extension What It Means Comments
.bin Binary file format A common encoding format for the Mac.
.gz Unix compression format The dominant compression format for Unix files.
.hqx Binhex encoding Another very common encoding format for the Mac.
.img Disk Image file format A file that is a disk image and must be mounted with the Disk Copy application before it can be used.
.pkg The package format Package files are installed with the application installer.
.sea StuffIt compression format that can be uncompressed Useful because the recipient of the file doesn't have by double-clicking the file to have a decompression tool. They simply double-click the file to decompress it.
.sit StuffIt compression The standard compression for Mac files.
.tar Tape Archive format An archiving format for Unix computers that is used for some files you might want for Mac OS X.
.zip Zip compression format The dominant compression format for Windows PCs.

Aladdin's StuffIt application is the dominant application for compressing, uncompressing, decoding, and encoding Mac files. The freeware application StuffIt Expander is included with Mac OS X to enable you to deal with compressed and encoded files that you download. StuffIt Expander can handle almost all the file formats listed in Table 13.1. So, most of the time, you will use StuffIt Expander to prepare the files you download for use.

Because Mac OS X is based on Unix, you can also use files that use the .tar and .gz formats as well. Preparing these files can be a bit more complicated (if StuffIt Expander doesn't work) because you have to use Unix commands to prepare them.

To learn how to use Unix commands to prepare a file you have downloaded, see Chapter 9, "Unix: Working with the Command Line," p. 213.

Manually Preparing a File for Use

Although you can rely on the preconfigured helper applications to handle most of the files you download, it is useful to know how to manually decode and uncompress files you download so that you can handle them yourself and you can better understand how to configure a helper application to do it for you.

By default, Internet Explorer will attempt to launch the appropriate helper application to handle files you download. If a file you download can be handled successfully by the helper application, it will be prepared and you will find a usable version of it in the same folder as the one to which it was downloaded.

  1. Locate the file you want to uncompress or decode.

  2. Access the StuffIt Expander application by opening the following path: Applications/Utilities.


    There are probably two versions of StuffIt Expander on your Mac. One is installed under Mac OS 9 and one is installed under Mac OS X. Make sure that you are working with the Mac OS X version because it can better handle your files. If the Classic application launches when you download a file, Internet Explorer is configured to use the Mac OS 9 version of StuffIt Expander rather than the OS X version. You should reconfigure it to use the Mac OS X version as its helper application.

  3. Drag and drop the file you want to prepare onto the StuffIt Expander icon. The StuffIt Expander application will launch and you will see a progress bar for the processing of the file.


If the StuffIt Expander icon doesn't become highlighted when you drag a file onto it, that file type cannot be handled with the free version of the StuffIt application. If the file is a Unix file, use the Unix tools to prepare it. Otherwise, you will probably have to upgrade to StuffIt Deluxe to be able to work with the file.

When the process is complete, you will see a new item in the same folder as the file you downloaded. If the original file contained more than one item, you will see a new folder containing the decoded and uncompressed items instead of a file.

You can work with the uncompressed/decoded items just like any other items on your Mac. For example, if a file expands into a folder, you can open that folder to work with the files in it. If the file expands into an .img file, you can double-click that file to mount the disk image on your Mac.


You can also prepare a file by launching StuffIt Expander and choosing Expand from its File menu.

For almost all the files you download, even the manual process is just that simple. Occasionally, you might run into a file on which this process doesn't work. In such a case, you have to try another tool (such as a Unix command or the StuffIt Deluxe application).

Configuring StuffIt Expander

A bit of configuration of StuffIt Expander will make this process even less difficult.

  1. Open the StuffIt Expander application.


    Make sure that you use the Mac OS X version of StuffIt Expander.

  2. On the StuffIt Expander menu, choose Preferences to open the Preferences window. This window has two panes. In the left pane, you choose the group of options you want to set and in the right, you use the controls to set the options. Some of the options you might want to configure are provided in Table 13.2.

  3. After you configure your preferences, click OK.

Table 13.2. Useful StuffIt Expander Preferences
Group of Options Useful Settings
Expanding Check the "Delete after expanding" check boxes if you want the application to delete files that it has expanded. This can prevent your downloads folder from being cluttered with files you don't need (not to mention saving your disk space).
Expanding Use the Scan for viruses using pop-up menu to set an application that StuffIt Expander will use to check files that you expand for viruses.
Disk Images Use these controls to have the application automatically mount disk image files.
Destination Use the Destination controls to set a folder into which expanded files should be placed. For example, you can set files to expand into a specific folder or you can have the application prompt you for a folder location each time that it expands a file.
Watch Folder Use these controls to identify a folder that StuffIt Expander should watch. When it finds a compressed or encoded file in this folder, it automatically expands the file. For example, you can set your down loads folder to be the watch folder so that files there will be handled automatically.
Internet Use these controls to determine which file types StuffIt Expander handles. Click the Use StuffIt Expander for all available file types button so that the application will work with as many file types as possible.

    Part I: Mac OS X: Exploring the Core
    Part III: Mac OS X: Living the Digital Lifestyle