Have you ever wondered how webmasters of old transferred large files and web pages from their computers at home to the servers that host their sites? Particularly when their hosts’ servers are located thousands of miles away?
No, they didn’t use magic. They used FTP.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, a method by which a computer can transfer files to another computer, provided that the computers are running the TCP/IP protocol.1 It is another example of the client-server program paradigm. An FTP server waits on a host for an FTP client to connect and make the request. The server program then finds and sends the file back to the client.2
The server or computer which stores files that can be retrieved using FTP are called FTP sites and sites that allow anyone to retrieve files (without having an account on that computer) are known as Anonymous FTP sites.3
Passive FTP (sometimes referred to as PASV FTP) on the hand is a more secure form of data transfer in which the flow of data is set up and initiated by the FTP client rather than by the FTP server program. The use of passive FTP ensures all data flow initiation comes from inside the network rather than from the outside.4
Some key features of FTP are:
- Interactive access
- Format (representation) specification (e.g. binary or text)
- Authentication control (user login, as well as anonymous ftp)
- Control program uses port 21, data transfer uses port 20
- Different commands to manipulate directories, files, and to control the transfer process.2
In order to access an FTP server, you will need an FTP client. FTP clients help get your Web pages from your hard drive to your Web hosting server and most allow you to automatically update your site, create mirrored sites, and even make quick changes directly on the server.
There are several easy to use FTP applications/clients on the market that are also very good file managers. Sending files using these applications can be as easy as dragging them from one directory on the PC to the appropriate directory on the server.5
WebmasterWorld: What is your favorite FTP program? offers some ideas*:
- FTPVoyager 10.0
- CuteFTP 6.0
- WS_FTP Pro 8.0
- Bullet Proof FTP 2.43
- LeechFTP 1.3
- BitBeamer 1.0 (follows same principle as LeechFTP)
- CoffeeCup Direct FTP 6.0
- Fetch 4.0.3
The Top 4 FTP Clients for Macintosh* according to Jennifer Kyrnin, on the other hand are:
* Latest versions are listed here.
Another way to use FTP is via the FTP Command Line. To access the command line:
On Windows FTP:
- From MS-DOS prompt or shell
- type in FTP
- in the FTP command line, type: open ftp.servername.domain
(the IP address can also be typed in)
- Once connected, provide username and password.
On Unix FTP:
- From command prompt or shell, type in FTP
- log into server (like in Windows FTP)
Common FTP commands may or may not work depending on the version of FTP and the Operating System, however, typing -help or a ? will generally list the commands available to you.6
FTP, however, is all but becoming passé as the trend in hosting providers now is in all-in-one hosting (allowing you to post your pages on their server, helping you to build your site, and even providing images and other tools to use). Instead of FTP access, they make you use a form to upload your files.7
But if you still need to use FTP, here are some online resources for you.
To get help using FTP and other concerns:
- FTPplanet.com – FTP 101- ABeginner’s Guide
- FTP Information
- Transferring Files with FTP
- Linux/Unix Commands: FTP Juergen Haas
And to download FTP tools:
- FTP tools
- Free FTP Tools
- Internet/Network – FTP Tools Michael DeSanto
- Freebies: Web Editors and FTP Programs by Linda Roeder
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