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The file module enables a trainer to provide a file as a course resource. Where possible, the file will be displayed within the course interface; otherwise learners will be prompted to download it. The file may include supporting files, for example an HTML page may have embedded images or Flash objects.

That learners need to have the appropriate software on their computers in order to open the file.

A file may be used:

  • To share policy documents.
  • To include relevant manuals as a course resource
  • To share templates for use in assessments.

Dragging and dropping files

If you are using a modern browser, you can simply click, hold, then drag and drop a file directly onto your course page. You will know if drag and drop is available to you because you will (briefly) see a message at the top of your screen. 

To drag and drop a folder, you must first compress/zip it using whichever program your computer has. See the documentation Folder for more information.

Uploading files

  • Instead of drag and drop, you can click the link Add an activity or resource and select File from the activity chooser (or choose from the Add a resource menu, if this is present instead).

  • The screen for uploading and displaying a file (or folder of files) includes an add button. Clicking on this button takes you to the File picker which is the name given to the file storage and access area within Totara. 

  • There is also a block (with an arrow) into which you can drag and drop a file straight from your desktop into Totara.

Viewing and editing uploaded files

  • Once uploaded, files appear as thumbnails in the file manager for easy recognition.
  • Files view can be easily toggled between icons view or a table view with sizes and dates, or a hierarchical list view. See the documentation on the File picker for more information.
  • Clicking on the name of an uploaded file opens up a pop up dialogue box which allows file details quickly to be altered.

Creating an alias/shortcut

When an uploaded file (or a file from the Private files, Dropbox, File system or EQUELLA repositories) is re-used elsewhere on Totara, the trainer has the option to make a copy (a new, unconnected version) or to create a shortcut or alias. If an alias is created, then when the original file is updated, it will change in all instances of the alias. So a trainer might add course notes to their private files for example, and then add them into a number of courses. When the trainer makes an alteration in the file in their private files, this alteration will be reflected in all instances of the course notes. An alias can be recognised by its thumbnail. See the difference in the screenshot below between the original file (left) and the alias (right).

To update a file:

  1. Go to its original location (for example Private files) and upload your new version with the same name.
  2. You will be prompted to override or rename the file. Choose override and this file will replace your original file.
  3. The alisas/shortcuts will remain and all be updated to your latest version.

Aliases cannot be made in the following areas:

  • An assignment submission.
  • A forum post attachment.
  • A workshop submission.
  • A quiz essay.
  • A database activity file field.

This is to prevent cases such as a learner uploading an item for assessment and then subsequently changing the original in their private files. When a learner uses a file from their private files in one of these instances, they do not see the options to copy or create an alias.



  • Automatic: Make the best guess at what should happen (probably what is wanted 99% of the time).
  • Embed: Show the Totara page with heading, blocks and footer. Show the title/description of the item and display the file directly in the page as well (good for images, flash animations, videos, and PDFs).
  • Force download: User clicks on the file, then the web browser pops up with the a box asking where they wish to save this file.
  • Open: No Totara heading, blocks, footer or description,  just show the file in the web browser (e.g. shows image, PDF, flash animation, taking up the whole browser window).
  • In pop-up: Same as Open, but opens a new browser window to show this file (without the Totara heading, blocks, etc). This browser window also does not have all the menus and address bar in it.

The following additional options are only there if you enable them via Site administration > Plugins > Activity modules > File.

  • In frame:  Show the Totara heading and the file description, with the file displayed in a resizable area below (images, PDF, flash, etc. supported).
  • New window:-Very much like the In pop-up option, but the new window is a full browser window, with menus and address bar, etc.

All of the above is true of items that can be displayed inside the browser directly (e.g. images, text files, PDFs (with plugin)). If the file cannot be displayed within the browser (e.g. word documents, without a suitable plugin, or other files that need to be loaded by an external program), then the pop-ups or frames, etc. will be created, but then the browser will take over and ask if you want to save the file.

To summarise:

  • Do you want Totara to sort it all out for you? Then Automatic is the best choice.
  • Do you want to force the user to save the file (or open it in a program on their desktop)? In this case select Force download.
  • Do you want to show the file as part of the Totara page (images, PDFs, videos)? You should use Embed.
  • Do you want to show the file in the browser, but without the Totara page decorations (images, PDFs, videos)? Then Open is the best option.
  • Do you want that, but in a new window? In Pop-up (or possibly New window) will be the best choices.
  • Do you want to use non-strict HTML ? Select In frame in this case. 

Show size or type

To show the file size and/or type on the course page and also on the resource page, simply tick the appropriate checkboxes.

Show upload/modified date

If enabled, this setting will display the date the resource was uploaded. If several resources are uploaded, then date the main file was uploaded will be displayed.

Use filters on file content

This setting is visible when Show more is clicked.

If you wish included media such as images and mp3 to appear embedded in the files then select all files or HTML files only, according to your file types.


This setting may cause problems for some Flash and Java applets.

Depending on what is enabled for your site and course, you may also need to explore Common module settingsRestrict access and Activity completion

If your File doesn't display as you wish, check the site settings below. 

Displaying a website index page

The file module may be used if you have a folder with linked files such as a website with an index.html file or a flash activity with xml/swf and index file.

Website index page set as main file
  1. Click the Turn editing on button at the top right of the course page.
  2. Drag and drop the zipped folder onto the course section where you'd like it to appear, answer Create file resource to the popup dialogue, then click the upload button.
  3. Clicking the editing icon then click on the ZIP file and unzip it.
  4. Click on the index.html file or the file you want to start displaying your linked files from then in the popup dialogue click the button Set main file. This ensures this file is the one that appears on the course page for learners to click on. The main file is then indicated with a title in bold.
  5. Click the button Save and display at the bottom of the page

Site settings

The file module has additional settings which may be changed by an administrator in Site administration > Plugins > Activity modules > File.

Frame height

Frame height allows you to specify the height of the top frame (containing the navigation) if you choose the "in frame" display option.

If your theme has a large header then the this setting should be increased to prevent horizontal and vertical scrollbars.
Available display options

By default Totara doesn't enable New window or In frame, so you need to set them available here if required, and you can also disable other options if not applicable.


You can also set the default values for many file settings. 


Display resource description below content? Some display types may not display description even if enabled.


Choose default display type, unfortunately not all types are suitable for all files.


Enable (tick) to display the file size on course page.


Enable (tick) to displaythe file type (e.g. 'Word document') on course page.


Enable (tick) to display upload/modified date on course page.


Specifies default width of popup windows.


Specifies default height of popup windows.


Select type of file content filtering, please note this may cause problems for some Flash and Java applets. Please make sure that all text files are in UTF-8 encoding.


Create a link to a file

  1. Click Turn editing on.
  2. Click File from the Add a resource menu.
  3. Enter a name for your resource. This is how the learner identifies these resources on the course page.
  4. Click Choose or upload a file, a new window appears with the files area directory structure.
  5. Locate the file if already uploaded, or click Add... or Create folder. See File Picker for more information.
  6. Complete the Appearance settings.
  7. Complete Common Module settings if required.
  8. Complete Restrict Access if required.
  9. Complete Activity Completion if required.
  10. Enter Tags if required.
  11. Click Save changes.
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