WordPress isn't exactly known for its sophisticated file and download management. The CMS can do the basics but many important functions are still missing. That's why we're taking a look at the six best file and download managers for WordPress today and showing you which solution will give you good results in the long term.
How often do you download files from the internet? Invoices, pictures, PDFs, instructions, order confirmations – there are countless examples of such files that people download from the internet in everyday life. Of course, that means there are at least as many use cases if you run a website yourself offering files for download.
Downloads with WordPress
Accounting for almost 41 percent of the world's websites, WordPress is by far the most popular CMS. It also has the largest community at developers. But the management of files and downloads isn't very especially well developed. There's nothing more on offer than a link to the file and – since the arrival of Gutenberg – an optional button. Of course, this is enough to handle simple downloads. For professional purposes, however, you quickly reach your limits when you just use WordPress alone.
This article explores when sophisticated download management is needed, what you should pay particular attention to and which plugins are best designed to help you implement it.
Why use a download manager?
As already mentioned, there are many different uses for download managers. The basic function is to simply upload a file in your WordPress backend, copy the link to the file on your server and link it in a blog post or on a static page.
For example, the PDF for the general terms and conditions, a price list for your services or the menu for a restaurant's lunch can be integrated wonderfully. Users click on the link and can download the PDF (or view it directly in the browser).
It gets more complicated if you, for example, only want to offer documents for download to a small group of users and not everyone who visits your website. In this case, you need password protection. The same applies to files where you want to have the terms and conditions agreed on before the download can be initiated. Depending on the use case, statistics and analyses also give you exact insights into when and which channels work well for promoting your digital product.
Many people are also looking for an easy way to sell digital products via their website, process payments and send licenses without having to set up an entire WooCommerce shop. Without specialist plugins for these purposes, you're somewhat stuck in WordPress. There are certainly solutions for mapping complicated automatic processes via forms but this also requires a contact form plugin – which isn't particularly user friendly.
Download managers for WordPress
Special download managers, i.e. plugins that handle the entire administration of your downloads, are better suited to meet these needs. They allow you to implement password or terms and conditions protection, set up statistics and integrate cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive.
Download managers and data protection
WordPress Download Manager
- Developer: W3 Eden
- Active installations: over 100,000
- Ratings: 4 from 5 stars
With over 100,000 active installations and almost 800 ratings in the WordPress plugin directory, the WordPress Download Manager from W3 Eden is one of the best-known plugins in this area. Whereby "plugin" is a bit of an understatement in this case. The "WordPress Download Manager" is almost an ecosystem of its own consisting of other plugins, add-ons and premium solutions for digital downloads.
Once installed, you'll find the new menu item "Downloads" in the left-hand main menu of WordPress. Here you can add new files, manage existing files and check the plugin settings. Under the item "Add-Ons", you can find over 80 free and paid extensions for the WordPress Download Manager! No matter what you're looking for in the area of digital downloads, there's a good chance that you'll find it here.
The choice is huge: Dropbox integration, add-ons for the WordPress page builder Elementor, blocks for Gutenberg to various button designs and sales reports. When uploading new files with the plugin, you can enter all the details that could be important for the file directly in the editor:
- The version number (if you publish regular updates or offer software for download).
- How the link should be labelled
- The size of the file
- The maximum number of times the file can be downloaded
- Which template you want to display for the download
The "Lock Options" function is particularly exciting. It gives you the option to allow downloads only after confirming the general terms and conditions, entering a set password or solving a Google Captcha. You can also set all three – or a combination of them. And these are just the basics you get without having to install any further add-ons.
The files can be integrated into posts and pages via shortcode and are then displayed in the template that you have selected. If you're serious about your digital downloads and need a lot of professional functions, you'll probably not get around the "WordPress Download Manager".
Gutenberg Blocks by WordPress Download Manager
- Developer: WordPress Download Manager
- Active installations: over 5,000
- Ratings: 5 from 5 stars
We recently reported on the best free WordPress themes with Gutenberg support. As a follow-up, we're now mentioning an add-on to the "WordPress Download Manager" (WPDM for short): WPDM Gutenberg Blocks. You can always tell whether it's an add-on in this plugin ecosystem by the suffix "by WordPress Download Manager" and the abbreviation "WPDM".
When you've installed the plugin, you'll find various new blocks for digital downloads in your Gutenberg editor. You can, for example, display your downloads in a table, show packages, integrate a sign-up and login form and include a file search in posts.
If you work with the Gutenberg editor, this free add-on can significantly improve your experience with the WordPress Download Manager.
- Developer: WPChill
- Active installations: over 100,000
- Ratings: 4.5 from 5 stars
WPChill's Download Monitor is also a small ecosystem in itself and offers 17 add-ons in addition to the free main plugin. Each additional add-on costs 39 USD. These allow, for example, CSV files to be exported and imported, include a download duplicator, email notifications, an optional email query before downloads (don't forget GDPR!), integration into well-known contact forms (e.g. Gravity Forms and Ninja Forms) and a "Twitter Lock" (download only available after the user tweets).
If you only operate one site, you can buy these extensions as a bundle for 125 USD. If you operate several sites, however, you'll need to pay 250 or 399 USD. By the way, this pricing model is common in many of the plugins presented here. The price of the individual plugins is set really high so that a huge discount on the "actual value" of the bundle can be offered. It's likely to be an effective sales tactic. Nevertheless, you should of course ask yourself in advance whether you really need all the included features. Or whether you can get by with a single add-on for 39 USD.
You already get access to the important functions with the free version of Download Monitor anyhow. You can upload files, add version numbers and dates, highlight downloads as "features" and place the downloads anywhere you like (e.g. in posts, sites or widgets) using shortcodes. You can also create your own pages to which your visitors are redirected when they've downloaded a file, e.g. a thank you page.
The Download Monitor isn't quite as powerful as the WordPress Download Manager described above and is also more expensive overall – but you're also not overwhelmed with a huge range of available functions. If you want to keep things simple, this plugin is a good alternative. After all, the extension runs on over 100,000 WordPress instances and gets 4.5 out of a possible five stars in the WordPress.org plugin directory.
Easy Digital Downloads - Simple eCommerce for Selling Digital Files
- Developer: Sandhills Development, LLC
- Active installations: over 60,000
- Ratings: 4.5 from 5 stars
The name Easy Digital Downloads - Simple eCommerce for Selling Digital Files already gives you a pretty good clue as to what it's all about: the focus is on digital download sales. It's not designed for people who only want to make their menu or general terms and conditions accessible online. Easy Digital Downloads is for e-books or PDF reports, for example, which you want to sell yourself without a marketplace or WooCommerce.
You can already see this in the fact that you can set prices when you make new downloads. There's a history of the last payments, a customer database and the option to set up discount codes you can include in your newsletter campaigns or distribute via social media.
There are also extensions for Easy Digital Downloads – more than 150 in fact. And these have a lot to offer, including integrations for payment services such as Stripe or PayPal, recurring payments (e.g. if you offer a subscription model), licensing options for your downloads, interfaces for newsletter providers, rating settings for the files and countless more. The problem is that these add-ons don't come cheap at 89 USD each. So if you want to upgrade your digital downloads with five add-ons, you'll already be forking out almost 450 USD.
Alternatively, the Sandhills Development team also offer these extensions in packages that cost between 99 and 499 USD. The packages are sorted by category; the smallest package, for example, only includes the email marketing tools, with additional categories being added with each subsequent level. If you're lucky, you'll find exactly what you're looking for in just one package and can save money that way.
Easy Digital Downloads is currently installed on over 60,000 WordPress sites and has an average of 4.5 out of five possible stars in the plugin directory.
Legal certainty in sales of digital goods
Simple Download Monitor
- Developer: Tips and Tricks HQ, Ruhul Amin, Josh Lobe
- Active installations: over 20,000
- Ratings: 4.5 from 5 stars
The plugin Simple Download Monitor was born out of necessity; the developers couldn't find a suitable and appealing way of displaying their digital downloads. The description of the plugins is written in the first person, which makes a nice change. At the same time, there are now also a handful of add-ons that can be purchased for 39 USD. These include the option to collect an email address before starting the download (Keep GDPR in mind! Read our guide to the coupling prohibition). There are also add-ons for Amazon, Dropbox and for email notifications when a file has been downloaded.
The basic version of Simple Download Monitor is free of charge and can be installed quite normally via the WordPress plugin directory. More than 20,000 WordPress have already done this and given it a total of 4.5 out of five possible stars. You'll also find the new menu item "Downloads" where you can add new files in the left column of the main menu of this plugin. The available logs and statistics give you a better overview of the success (or failure) of your downloads.
When you upload a file, you'll see many options to choose from. You can upload a thumbnail here, for example, to make your downloads look even better. The file size, version number and the text of the download button can be set here. You can then integrate the files into posts, pages or widgets as you wish using shortcodes – either with or without download counters.
6. WordPress Download Manager and File Sharing plugin
- Developer: Tammersoft
- Active installations: over 1,000
- Ratings: 4.5 from 5 stars
The plugin WordPress Download Manager and File Sharing Plugin (plus the suffix "With frontend file upload - a better Media Library - Shared Files") not only has an extremely long name, it can also do an awful lot. First of all, we need to mention here that the plugin has a free and a paid premium version. The free version can be downloaded via the link above in the WordPress plugin directory and installed on your site.
The premium version costs 149 USD for a lifetime plan, 9.99 USD for a monthly subscription and 4.99 USD per month for annual payment. None of the plugins presented in this article has placed the premium version or available add-ons so prominently and sometimes provocatively in the foreground as this download manager from Tammersoft. In the settings, every second setting is marked with a greyed-out "PRO", which can make it difficult to use here and there if you don't opt for the paid version.
Although the layout can be adjusted, you can't decide whether the elements are then displayed vertically and horizontally centred within a map without the premium version. This applies to the entire settings, which are nevertheless very powerful. Premium users are pretty much left wanting for nothing. Even the thumbnails of password-protected files can be deactivated so that nothing is revealed until the user has entered the password. This tool really goes into the details.
The files are uploaded and managed via the menu item "Shared Files" (interestingly not via the "Downloads" icon that always looks the same on all other plugins). But here too, you quickly reach your limits as a free user – you can't set more than the date of the file and a description. You can, however, at least still set tags and categories for better internal management.
With this WordPress download manager, embedding in posts, pages or widgets also works with a shortcode that can be customized with individual attributes. There are instructions for all of this in the settings.
The download manager with the longest name can do a lot, but also hides behind the paywall too often. But for 149 USD, the lifetime version has good reviews and, compared to the other plugins in our overview, is priced very reasonably. In the WordPress plugin directory, the plugin nevertheless only has around 1,000 active installations. Of course, you can never know how aggressively the plugin is sold through the developers' own channels. They do already have a good download manager in-house. You should test the free version thoroughly, for example in terms of compatibility with your other plugins, before you decide on the premium plugin.
Conclusion: Which Download Manager suits you?
We've reached the end of our guide and now the question remains – which download manager is best suited for you? First things first, you have to decide how professionally you want to approach your digital downloads. The in-house WordPress solution of a link and button could be better but it's certainly sufficient for many simple downloads. If you need more functions and options, you don't have to go all out either – the free versions of plugins are also often enough.
If you want to sell digital downloads without having to deal with WooCommerce as a shop system, there's no getting around the Easy Digital Downloads system from Sandhills with its multiple add-ons for payment providers and processing payments. This is, of course, assuming the issue of legal security of sales has been clarified. Because unlike WooCommerce, we're not aware of any corresponding additional plugins here. All other users will most likely reach their goal without major issues with the WordPress Download Manager from W3 Eden or with the Download Monitor from WPChill.
It's important to not be blinded by the various prices and offers for the countless add-ons. Almost all providers charge (sometimes more, sometimes less) fantasy prices for the individual add-ons, some of which seem extremely expensive (around 89 USD for the simplest functions). There's a system to this as it allows them to sell the entire package or various bundles at a gigantic discount to the "actual value".
The bundle then suddenly "only" costs 150 US dollars and offers a "discount of several hundred euros". You have two sensible options here. Either you ask yourself very specifically in advance what you need and then actually buy these add-ons individually (which is usually cheaper if you don't need too many add-ons). Or you buy the bundle directly, without being lured by all the offers and spending a long time calculating.
When it comes to digital downloads and download managers for WordPress, you must also pay attention to GDPR and possibly the requirements for online shops (see our notes in the article). The plugins presented here offer many functions that could be problematic if you don't look into the GDPR requirements thoroughly.
An important keyword you need to be aware of when offering such downloads is the prohibition of coupling. Moreover, your users' consent is required to collect and track their data and behavior. To avoid legal warnings, we really recommend you discuss this topic with legal experts.
With this selection of download manager plugins, you can take your digital downloads to the next level. Since they all offer free versions, there's no reason why you shouldn't install and try them all one after the other before you make your final decision. Check out more tips on choosing the right WordPress plugins.