An Introduction to Filestack

- December 18, 2015


Like most SaaS businesses, describing what we do can be a challenge. In the past we’ve used a number of terms to describe what Filestack is (and isn’t) with varying degrees success and completeness. One of the key reasons we felt compelled to transition the company from Filepicker to Filestack was to expand the focus from our picker (what most people know about us) to the full suite of tools and services we offer. Calling our company Filepicker.io was like calling a swiss army knife a toothpick holder – there were too many tools not being represented.

Calling our company Filepicker.io was like calling a swiss army knife a toothpick holder – there were too many tools not being represented.

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will provide both an overview of the Filestack platform as well as an introduction to a number of key features that you will no doubt find useful, but might not have known we offered. In this post we’ll talk about the three main components of our file management platform, but in future posts we’ll dive deeper into some of the powerful features and workflows our customers use to build, grow and run their apps.

So, to get started, let’s answer this question…

What is Filestack?

To best understand the organization of our platform’s functionality, let’s take a brief detour into the world of art to find a esoteric and rarely used term.

A triptych, as defined by Wikipedia, is a work of art, usually a painting, that is divided into three sections. The middle panel is usually the largest and it is flanked by two smaller related works. Together, the individual pieces tell a full story. To call Filestack a work of art might be a bit audacious (I’m biased), but to best understand the end-to-end nature of our file management abilities we should divide it into it’s three distinct functions that tell the full story of our business.

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These three functions, which can be used and appreciated separately, but are designed to work together as seamless framework. And much like its artistic counterpart, the middle section, in our case transformations, is often considered to be the focal point. So let’s start there.  

“Transform and roll out”

At the heart of the Filestack platform is an engine that offers a long list of transformations. These actions can be chained together to create complex workflows that manage your images, videos, audio files and office documents, performing any number of transformations either while being uploaded, served or both. We’ll cover each of the following topics in more detail in future posts. But here are a few examples of how Filestack can automate a number of common and useful workflows.

Images

Filestack is a power user when it comes to handling image files. There are so many examples of how our customers are using our uploader widget and the API endpoint to make quick work of controlling their application’s photographic look and feel. Our transformation engine allows you normalize photos upon upload to ensure consistency on your site just as easily as it can transform (i.e. resize, sharpen and add borders) each original image in a database on their way to being rendered in a browser, letting your designer really use her imagination and have some fun.

Office Documents

Even though we live in the Internet age, not all files are web-friendly. That’s why Filestack allows you to perform document transformations like convert a user’s Word document to a plain text or an HTML file upon upload as well as convert a PowerPoint document to PDF page-by-page to replicate the experience of viewing it on an e-reader in a mobile app. Filestack even offers it’s own embeddable viewer for allowing visitors to your site to view Word, PowerPoint, Excel and PDF files without relying on any additional software or pugins.

Videos

According to Cisco, video content is on it’s way to making up 84% of all Internet traffic. More sites are leveraging videos to help educate, onboard and explain their product and a growing market sector of education technology firms are making browsers and mobile apps suitable replacements for traditional classrooms. Filestack’s video transformations let you re-encode a user’s h.264 file to a more web-friendly .webm when it’s uploaded and then stream it via CDN at a preset aspect ratio and with your company’s logo watermarked in the corner without ever having to touch video editing software.

Grab files from anywhere on the Internet 

Powerful transformations are only as useful as your ability to use them on your files. That’s why Filestack provides both a way to upload your file to our platform and another way to bring the API engine to your files.

In the more traditional of the two methods, you can use our file picker which has all of the most popular cloud drives integrated to can grab files from anywhere on the Internet. Users can configure Filestack to store uploaded files with us or on one of your own storage services like S3, Rackspace Cloud Files, or Azure Storage.  

A new feature to Filestack is the ability to pass an external file using just a URL. That’s right, files don’t have to be uploaded into Filestack in order to use our transformation engine. As long as the file is available on the internet, you can use it’s URL to pass it to one of our API endpoints.

Delivery the finished product anywhere, fast

Once you’ve uploaded a file from any number of locations across the Internet, made them perfect with an efficient transformation workflow, Filestack allows you to deliver the end product to your users quickly and efficiently via our own content delivery network.
Not sure what that is and how it benefits you? Well, that’s a different discussion (blog post) altogether, but suffice to say that a CDN is a network of servers distributed geographically in data centers across the globe that have the sole purpose of storing copies of your content as close to your customers as possible. This not only minimizes download times, but reduces the overall load on your infrastructure by intercepting a number of these requests.

Filestack in a Nutshell

To borrow a phrase made famous from O’Reilly’s line of technical manuals, Filestack, “in a nutshell”, is a file management triptych providing web and mobile developers the tools and infrastructure to upload, transform and deliver images from anywhere on the Internet, to anywhere on the Internet. These capabilities, combined into a single, seamless framework, provide you and your team the tools to prototype fast, ship often, automate key workflows, reduce infrastructure and spend more time building your app and your business.


Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting a number of articles that dig deeper into Filestack’s key features. We look forward to sharing this knowledge with you, but if you’re impatient, feel free to jump ahead by scheduling a demo with one of our implementation engineers.