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Best free cloud storage in 2021

A data center overlaid with graphics portraying cloud software
(Image credit: Pixabay)

It's a sign of a strongly competitive market that the best free cloud storage services are offered by some of the best cloud storage providers. If you're seeking basic storage, have little to no budget, or are looking at reducing cloud storage costs, free cloud storage can be ideal. While restricted by lower maximum storage levels and fewer features, free plans are often perfect for the average individual's needs.

When it comes to important personal files, documents, or photos, even a small amount of storage can make the world of difference to most people, who can utilize the best free cloud storage services to securely save files, and quickly and easily access them when needed. If more space is needed down the line, it's simple to upgrade, too.

While free storage isn't ideal for bigger businesses, who should look to the best cloud storage for business to find the right solution, for freelancers and small projects free cloud storage offers the ability to collaborate and share files quickly and simply.

We ranked the best free cloud storage services based on factors including the amount of free storage offered, the strength of their security, their ability to provide file access, file size limits, and any additional features offered. However, while free plans can be great, their limitations can be an issue. We've outlined the limits of the services below, so that you don't need to and can make the right choice.

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Which is the best free cloud storage service?

For free cloud storage, our top-rated provider is Google Drive, due to its 15GB of free storage, top-drawer apps, and its integration with Google's Workspace productivity tools. pCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, and MediaFire also make our list of the top five free providers, and merit your consideration when looking into cloud storage.

The best free cloud storage available right now

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Google Drive logo

Click through this slideshow to see more on Google Drive's features (Image credit: Google Drive)
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Google Drive's webpage discussing its search capabilities

Google Drive offers powerful search capabilities (Image credit: Google Drive)
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Google Drive's webpage discussing its security features

Google Drive offers 256-bit AES encryption (Image credit: Google Drive)
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Google Drive's webpage discussing collaborative features

Google Drive provides collaborative tools for efficient workflow (Image credit: Google Drive)
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Google Drive's webpage discussing its third-party app integrations

You can integrate several apps into your Google Drive (Image credit: Google Drive)

1. Google Drive

Beefy cloud storage coupled with online office tools

Free storage capacity: 15GB

15GB of space for free 
Full access to Google Workspace
Backup and Sync desktop app
No password protection
No file expiration

With 15GB included at zero cost, Google Drive is one of the more giving cloud providers. Do note that all files from your other Google services (Gmail, Photos, etc.) are also stored within this capacity, meaning each email attachment you download takes up space. 

However, a Gmail address isn’t mandatory to sign up. Create a new Google account and you’re good to go, but don’t be confused if you see Google One, the rebranding of paid Google Drive storage as part of Google Workspace. 

As for the current service, there are mobile apps for Android and iOS users, Google’s own office productivity tools, and a nifty Backup and Sync desktop app that enables you to automatically duplicate files in the cloud, just in case your laptop or PC dies or gets pinched. Read our full Google Drive review to learn more about the service, and our comparison feature pitting Google Drive vs OneDrive

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pCloud logo

Click through to see examples of pCloud's features and tools (Image credit: pCloud)
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pCloud's interface in use

It's easy to share files and folders on pCloud (Image credit: pCloud)
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pCloud's media player

pCloud's built-in media player works right from its interface (Image credit: pCloud)
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pCloud Crypto in use

pCloud Crypto is offered free for all business users (Image credit: pCloud)
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pCloud's Social Backups feature being demonstrated

pCloud's Social Backups automatically saves your photos from platforms like Instagram and Facebook (Image credit: pCloud)

2. pCloud

Smooth-running, user-friendly service

Free storage capacity: 10GB (can increase to 20GB)

Elegant and intuitive interface
Simplified sharing options 
Users can double the free storage
Generic interface
No real-time collaboration

The free pCloud package starts with 10GB of file space, which can be increased to 20GB through a combination of completed offers (4GB) and referrals (1GB each). As a bonus, there’s 50GB of downlink traffic bandwidth allowance available on a monthly basis. 

The appealing and highly functional interface makes storing files easy, whether through finely crafted desktop and mobile apps or pCloud’s website. File sharing features are as simple as they can be, with the ability to share files with non-pCloud users. Built-in streaming features, and no restriction on file size, mean you can freely send large files like HD videos to others. 

pCloud also offers appreciable deals for upgrading to a paid service. 500GB storage will cost you $3.99 a month, while there are also affordable annual and lifetime subscriptions if you’re looking to save some money. To learn more about pCloud, read our comprehensive pCloud review, and our pCloud interview with the company's Ivan Dimitrov about its expansion, COVID-19's impacts, and the future.

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Dropbox logo

Click through this slideshow to view more on Dropbox's tools and features (Image credit: Dropbox)
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Dropbox's Smart Sync feature demonstrated

Smart Sync lets you choose what files you'd like to sync to your hard drive (Image credit: Dropbox)
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Dropbox Paper in use

Paper is Dropbox's collaborative document-editing service (Image credit: Dropbox)
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Dropbox's third party integrations

Dropbox integrates smoothly with your favorite apps and software (Image credit: Dropbox)
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Dropbox's security features

Dropbox lacks zero-knowledge encryption, which is a big drawback (Image credit: Dropbox)

3. Dropbox

Popular cloud storage provider with broad third-party support

Free storage capcity: 2GB

Wide array of supported platforms
Lots of useful features
Measly 2GB allowance

Let’s get to the bad news first. For such a respected service, Dropbox doesn’t do itself any favors with only 2GB of free storage, one of the least generous allowances around. However, there are multiple ways to rake up additional space that include completing the starting guide (250MB), referring people to the service (500MB per referral, up to 16GB), and contributing to the Dropbox Community forum (1GB). 

Once you get past that initial drawback, Dropbox reveals some crafty tricks. For instance, Dropbox Paper is a collaborative tool that allows seamless file sharing between different users, and syncs photos automatically via the desktop app. 

You can also request users upload directly to your Dropbox account with the File Requests feature, and edit files without downloading them when working on the web version.

The service also exhibits serious flexibility, with a bundle of desktop and mobile apps that include all the regulars and some uncommon platforms like Linux and Kindle. This allows access to your storage from virtually any device, accompanied by a wide range of supported third-party apps and services. 

Make sure to read our Dropbox review to learn more about the service and its features, as well as details of its paid cloud storage plans. You can also find out how it compares to one of its main competitors by reading our comparison feature, Google Drive vs Dropbox.

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OneDrive logo

Click through to find out more about OneDrive and its services (Image credit: Microsoft)
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OneDrive's webpage discussing its document scanner tool

The Document Scanner is one of our favorite OneDrive features (Image credit: OneDrive)
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OneDrive's webpage discussing its On This Day feature

On This Day is a feel-good feature that makes using OneDrive an enjoyable experience (Image credit: OneDrive)
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OneDrive's encryption features described

OneDrive's encryption framework is solid without being exceptional (Image credit: OneDrive)
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OneDrive's webpage discussing data center safety

All Microsoft data centers are heavily protected by both physical and network security policies (Image credit: OneDrive)

4. Microsoft OneDrive

Stellar storage solution aimed at Windows users

Free storage capacity: 5GB

Excellent integration with Microsoft products 
Documents can be edited online without download 
Only 5GB of free storage 
Inconsistent user interface

One would expect that a tech giant like Microsoft would offer more file storage space for free to users, but that’s not the case with OneDrive: you have to make do with 5GB. Granted, the basic paid plan offers 50GB for a fair price, and Microsoft 365 subscribers get 1TB of space for their trouble. 

Therein lies OneDrive’s biggest appeal: much like Google Drive, the service will primarily find a home with Microsoft users, thanks to its close relationship with Office apps and automatic Windows 10 integration. For users on the go, there are mobile apps that allow easy cross-platform use.  

OneDrive makes collaboration easy, as it doesn’t limit use to OneDrive users, and you can even customize access and how you share files with others. Remote document storage also includes the ability to work on files online without downloading them, which certainly simplifies things.

Find out more about the cloud storage platform in our Microsoft OneDrive review, and our comparison feature pitting IDrive vs OneDrive.

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MediaFire logo

Click through this slideshow to see how MediaFire works and what tools it offers (Image credit: MediaFire)
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MediaFire's file manager in use

The MediaFire file manager enables you to organize your content into folders, search for files, and sort content (Image credit: MediaFire)
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MediaFire's file previewer for images

MediaFire does not offer file previews for PDFs or videos, but there is a rudimentary file previewer for images (Image credit: MediaFire)
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MediaFire's download links and sharing capabilities

MediaFire enables file sharing by link, email, or social media. Paid users can also create one-time download links (Image credit: MediaFire)
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MediaFire's mobile app in use

The MediaFire mobile app offers automatic backups from your smartphone's camera roll, and enables you to share files over messaging apps (Image credit: MediaFire)

5. MediaFire

Highly capable cloud-based storage solution

Free storage capacity: 10GB (can increase to 50GB)

Very inexpensive plans
Supports file sharing
Unlimited bandwidth
No file encryption
No file syncing across devices

MediaFire starts you off with 10GB of free space, which you can then increase fivefold through various usual activities, such as referring other people or following the company across social media. You’ll end up with 50GB of free cloud storage, but note that you’ll have to suffer through advertisements. 

The service has been around for a long time, and it has had plenty of time to work out some kinks, such as speed and ease-of-use for file management, though its security is still very poor compared to the competition.

MediaFire supports files up to 4GB in size, with no download limit. Apart from the impressive web version, the service is available for Android and iOS users through apps that work well, and have a few practical features, such as automatic photo and video syncing and streaming options. 

Read our comprehensive MediaFire review to learn more about the platform.

What is cloud storage?

Cloud storage stores data on a physical drive, and shares it via an online software platform with users whenever and wherever they want to view it. Many providers rank among the best apps to share files as a result. It takes three main forms:

  • self-hosted, using on-premises (on-prem) infrastructure
  • storage as a service (StaaS), using third-party, externally-managed data center infrastructure for economy of scale and large, affordable storage levels
  • hybrid cloud storage combines on-prem infrastructure and cloud 

StaaS products are often called storage and syncing platforms, as they're designed for collaboration, allowing users to seamlessly upload, access, edit, track changes to, and share files from any connected device, thanks to cloud sync technology. This encompasses file versioning and link sharing, and consequently StaaS cloud storage products provide cohesive, integrated digital environments.

How secure is cloud storage?

Cloud storage services offer a range of security and encryption options, with two to keep an eye out for being end-to-end encryption and zero-knowledge architecture. End-to-end encryption means providers are essentially all but hack-proof, and zero-knowledge architecture means not even providers' staff can access data, even if law enforcement compels them to. 

Also look for in-transit and at-rest encryption, which mean data is indecipherable even should it be intercepted. StaaS organizations' highly-secure data centers see data and infrastructure protected by round-the-clock security, biometric authorization for entry, and frequent security auditing. 

It's also worth lookiing for features like multi-factor authentication (MFA), and all of this together means the best cloud storage services offer cutting-edge, strong security to protect your important data.

Will Roszczyk

Will is B2B editor for ecommerce, focused primarily on website builders, web hosting, and cloud storage across Tom's Guide and IT Pro Portal. He has 11 years of experience across B2B online content and magazine production, having previously been a sub editor, associate editor, and deputy editor at a global B2B publication, and editor of a B2B membership journal.