Federal Records Management

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Transferring Permanent Electronic Records to NARA

February 10, 2021, updated September 13, 2023

1. What are the steps in transferring permanent electronic records?

First you should ensure the records are scheduled permanent and are no longer needed for business use. Once you have determined the records transfer eligibility, you will need to submit a transfer request (TR) in the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) 2.0. Please refer to the Accessioning Electronic Records page for details on completing the TR.  An electronic records archivist will review the TR and inform you if any changes are required. Once you have an approved TR, you may send your records to NARA. The method of transfer will depend on the type and volume of records you plan to transfer.

At any point in this process, please consult with your electronic records archivist, or email Etransfers@nara.gov for assistance.

2. What file formats will NARA accept? 

NARA Bulletin 2014-04 provides guidance regarding the file formats to use when transferring permanent electronic records to NARA. This bulletin contains an appendix of preferred and acceptable file formats based on record type.

NARA chose these formats due to their sustainability, or the suitability of the format to preserve encoded information over time. In addition, the formats are usually based on internationally recognized standards that are open source or have published specifications.

3. How do I send permanent electronic records to NARA?

NARA can accept transfers of electronic records on media or via an electronic transfer process. Common media used to transfer electronic records are Compact-Disk, Read Only Memory (CD-ROM), Digital Video Disks (DVDs), thumb drives, and external hard drives. Records on physical media can be mailed or delivered in person to NARA. If mailing records on media, NARA recommends using a mail service which offers package tracking. Please see 36 CFR 1235.46 for additional information.

Additionally, agencies may use their own Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) site to share files or they can upload records to a NARA SFTP site, with some limitations. Approved SFTP transfers will be coordinated through eSFTP@nara.gov. Contact your electronic records archivist, or email Etransfers@nara.gov for assistance.

Uploads directly to ERA 2.0 are limited to agencies that have communicated with their electronic records archivist and received direct approval. As NARA continues to test this feature and expand use cases, we will share updates via the Records Express blog and AC memos.


4. What are the limitations with NARA’s SFTP site?
Several factors may limit the use of SFTP as a transfer method:

  • The SFTP method is unclassified and cannot be used for classified records. The agency and NARA will mutually agree on the appropriateness of SFTP transfer.
  • Each upload link that NARA provides has a 30 GB file limit. Given the size limitations, especially if the transfer is over 20 files or 1 GB, we strongly recommend that the agency ZIP their files to simplify the transfer process.
  • The upload link is active for only 14 days. Agencies need to be ready to transfer files at the time the request is made and may need to break up the transfer into multiple transfer segments.


5. Will NARA support the use of agency-initiated automated workflows to transfer permanent electronic records?

NARA does not yet have an operational capability to receive permanent electronic records through an agency-initiated automated workflow. Agencies can prepare for automated transfer workflows by embedding records schedules and retention periods as managed metadata elements within their systems of records. This will streamline the process of tracking and identifying records eligible for transfer to NARA. We will make updates to our technical infrastructure, our system, and our policies and procedures towards establishing an automated transfer workflow. As we have news regarding our progress, we will share those updates via the Records Express blog and AC memos.


6. Will NARA support cloud-to-cloud transfer of permanent electronic records?

NARA does not yet have an operational capability for cloud-based transfers from agencies and we do not yet have a timeframe for when we will implement such a capability.  In 2022, we conducted a pilot transfer of permanent Federal records from one agency to NARA within AWS GovCloud. As we review the results of this pilot, we are considering criteria for further testing with agencies, and we continue to test cloud-based transfers to ERA 2.0 using our own digital content.

To make cloud-based transfers operational requires updates to our technical infrastructure, our system, and our policies and procedures. As we have news to share regarding our progress we will share those updates via the Records Express blog and AC memos.


7. Can I transfer permanent electronic records through ERA?

The agency interface to the ERA 2.0 system is under development, but it will eventually include the ability for agencies to directly upload or use a cloud-to-cloud transfer process.


8. What are the documentation requirements for transferring electronic records, including Capstone email?

For electronic records, documentation can refer to technical documentation for structured data or metadata. Documentation requirements for structured data files, digital geospatial data files, and documents containing SGML tags are defined in 36 CFR 1235.48 - What documentation must agencies transfer with electronic records? By extension, NARA Bulletin 2015-04: Metadata Guidance for the Transfer of Permanent Electronic Records further defines “documentation” by specifying the minimum set of metadata elements that must accompany transfers of permanent electronic records to the National Archives.

The general transfer requirements associated with Capstone email, including documentation, are defined in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about GRS 6.1: Email Managed under a Capstone Approach. Please see the section titled Questions About Transfer and the answer to Question 36 for information on documentation.


9. When preparing email for transfer, do they have to be grouped into an aggregate format (PST) or can they be transferred as individual messages?
NARA Bulletin 2014-04, Appendix A defines the acceptable and preferred formats for the transfer of individual emails and for aggregations of emails. There is no requirement that emails be grouped into an aggregate format. However, agencies may find economies and efficiencies in managing the emails associated with an individual account as a single email aggregation such as a PST, rather than managing hundreds or thousands of individual emails.


10. What tools are available to help agencies comply with NARA's documentation requirements?

The Electronic Records Accessioning Support Tools GitHub repository supports agencies in their preparation of metadata and permanent electronic records for transfer to NARA. Current tools include:

  • FileLister, which allows users to pull the file name, full file path, size in bytes, file extension, date modified, and SHA-256 Hash. 
  • Junk File Finder, which identifies and removes zero byte files, backup files, hidden files, and empty folders from a set of records.
  • File Compare, which notes the differences between lists of filenames from a directory to lists obtained from an external source of metadata such as a database or spreadsheet.
  • Funny Filename Finder allows users to to identify invalid characters that do not meet ASCII standards within filenames. The presence of these characters can lead to issues when attempting to move or open impacted files.

These Java tools are in JAR file format and do not require installation or administrative privileges to use. We recommend that agencies obtain IT permission prior to using the tools. Using these tools not only supports preparing required metadata, but also assists NARA when processing, preserving, and providing access to electronic records.


11. Can I send physical electronic media (computer tapes, hard drives, CDs, etc.) to a Federal Records Center?

Electronic records that are scheduled permanent are normally maintained by the agency until they are eligible for transfer to NARA.  We highly recommend that electronic media holding permanent electronic records not be stored in an FRC, due to the requirements in 36 CFR 1236.28. However, if your agency has temporary electronic records on media that are no longer needed for business use, you may send those records to an FRC until the end of the retention period. Contact your Federal Records Centers Account Manager for further information about FRC electronic media services.

12. I have old computer media, but no hardware to read them anymore. Can NARA read them for me?

If your agency has old computer media and you cannot be certain that they contain only scheduled permanent records, we recommend you contact a data recovery service. Data recovery contractor services are included in the list of GSA approved contractors for Information Technology Professional Services (SIN 54151S).

13. Who should I contact about transferring permanent electronic records?

For most formats of born-digital records, please consult with your electronic records archivist, or email Etransfers@nara.gov for assistance. 

For transfers consisting of solely digital photography, contact NARA’s Still Picture Branch at stillpix.accessions@nara.gov. For transfers consisting of solely digital audio and video recordings, contact NARA’s Motion Picture Branch at mopix@nara.gov.