Cheat Sheet: Mapping out a Powerful File Handling System

Are you launching an app with user-generated or rich product content? At some point, you’ll need a steady infrastructure for receiving, processing, and delivering files. To save you time on feature planning and research, we’ve drafted a high-level tech spec with all the traps and pitfalls.

A tech spec? Seriously? Yep! As you will soon understand, implementing a “Choose a file” button is just the tip of the iceberg: the whole project will need an architecture overview. Use our cheat sheet to create your own tech/product spec or simply glance through it before story mapping.

💡 This cheat sheet will bring the most value to media-heavy platforms like website builders, CMSs, marketplaces, and marketing automation platforms.

Intro: Giving the Whole Thing a Real-World Vibe

Let’s call this functionality UploadUFO and map it out using a popular tech spec template from Lyft Engineering, as their approach seems simple and well thought out. There are eight key sections, and we’ll cover all of them right now 👾

Meet UploadUFO, a steady infrastructure for uploading any files without having a cow.

1. Creating a File Handling System: Overview

UploadUFO is a reliable file handling system that enables publishers and designers to fill their websites with rich content. Apart from receiving and storing, UploadUFO will deliver the content at the drop of a hat and tailor it to any screen and device. Efficient visual content optimization and fast load times will differentiate us from other CMS providers and bring our customers the maximum value.

Got it? Here we’ve described our vision, making the feature a part of the product and business reality.

2. Goals and Impact Measurement

✔️ UploadUFO will make file uploads and delivery 5X faster than our competitors (XYZ), ensuring a great user experience and page load times.

✔️ Our customers will be happy with the functionality. We’ll track their happiness via NPS (should be above 50) and the average number of support tickets (should be below 10 per month).

✔️ UploadUFO will work like a charm for 10,100, or 100,000 users, scaling as we grow.

✔️ The functionality should be easy to maintain (less than X hours per month).

3. Identifying Non-Goals

❌ We are not building our own storage or a CDN; we’ll use third-party vendors instead.

❌ We are not investing in any AI elements, as file handling is not at the core of our product.

❌ We are not letting our users upload cows, as they are too big and can’t be split into chunks.

4. Feature Planning

First, define the big picture: how will the whole file handling system function? What are the crucial elements, and how are they connected?

The UploadUFO file management system will be composed of 3 main elements: an uploading UI or File Uploader, cloud storage, and a CDN. When a user uploads a file, it goes to the storage and gets delivered upon request, tailored to the individual’s context.

Use schemes and simple diagrams to show the big picture and main infrastructure elements.

Then you’ll need to describe each element. We gathered all the possible requirements and split them into four main parts: uploads, storage, processing, and delivery. To decide what’s relevant for your project, go through the points below or download the checklist in PDF format.

Uploads

All the possible parts and features of a file uploading process.

Storage

All you need to take into account when planning file storage.

Processing

Here is what you’ll need for setting up file processing.

Delivery

All the nuts and bolts of the content delivery process.

5. Security, privacy, risks

UploadUFO will have a signed uploads option to help our customers control who is uploading content to their website. We’ll make sure we have a serverless backup for all the user content. On top of that, we’ll consider GDPR and HIPAA compliance requirements, as we have different types of customers on board and use cases related to confidential information.

Another potential risk can be related to scaling: a basic in-house infrastructure will endure the MVP stage, but what if you grow to thousands of customers? To foresee all the risks, it’s recommended to ask your stakeholders for a tech spec review.

6. Other Considerations

For example, here you can list your ideas around the classic build or buy dilemma: should the infrastructure be built from scratch, be composed of different outsourced components, or fully outsourced?

If you opt for a completely DIY solution, a fully fledged infrastructure with all the above elements covered can take up to 2–3 years to build. Deciding on what to buy or build could reduce this time frame dramatically.

A comparison of different types of delivery.

UploadUFO will be an out-of-the-box solution, as we need to ship the feature faster and focus on the core functionality. We also aren’t ready to solve all the possible issues of open-source solutions, as we’d have to bring many moving parts together, and support and maintain the infrastructure in the future.

7. Milestones

Since UploadUFO is an out-of-the-box solution, we’ll have the following implementation flow:

Making a shortlist of 3rd party solutions: May 1st

Product demos and choosing a vendor: May 10th

Setup, configuration, and tests: May 14th

Feature release: May 15th

8. Open Questions

❓What do we need to do to meet GDPR compliance?

❓How well can we optimize content and what will be the impact on page load speed and hosting costs? What other perks are there for the end users?

What’s Next?

If you’re a tech spec renegade and hate waterfall-ish approaches, just take all this information to the story mapping session and get your kudos from the team.

P.S. Laying the Cards on the Table

  • Outsource the image handling burden
  • Reduce image bandwidth and hosting costs
  • Speed up production and time to market
  • Ensure reliable delivery

As a result, Shogun cut 86% of image bandwidth costs, achieved 1.5% page load acceleration, and saved three months of development time, resulting in a $200,000 overall savings.

👉 Read the full story

File system as a service for web and mobile apps