FTP Overview

  1. FTP
  2. Hostname/address, ports and usernames
  3. FTP Authentication
  4. What is an FTP Client?
  5. Can't I Use a browser?
  6. Can't I Use Dreamweaver?
  7. Filezilla

FTP

FTP is an acronym for File Transfer Protocol, the protocol for exchanging files over the Internet. FTP works in the same way as HTTP for transferring web pages from a server to a user's browser because FTP uses the Internet's TCP/IP protocols to enable data transfer.

FTP is the standard method of sending and retrieving files over the Internet without the need to write an email message or open the file. It is particularly useful for transmitting large numbers of files (such as a website) without having to deal with each file individually.

When downloading a file from the Internet using FTP you're actually transferring the file to your computer from another computer over the Internet. This is what puts the T in FTP. You may not know where the computer is that the file is coming from but you most likely know its URL or Internet address.

In order to FTP files to and from an FTP server you will have to know the name of the FTP host and be able to authenticate into the server host with a username and password. This is usually done with a piece of software called an FTP client, which we'll talk about more in a minute.

Hostname/address, ports and usernames

You must know the name (or numeric IP address) of the server you want to download from or upload to, and the names and folders (directories) of the files you want to get or send. For Anonymous FTP (see below) the exact directory name and filename is not essential, as you can browse through what is available to find the right place.

The names of Internet computers are usually in the format machine.site.network, for example rtfm.mit.edu; the IP address is four numbers separated by dots, for example 18.181.0.29. Note that some countries add a fourth, and sometimes even a fifth, element to the name, eg juno.cs.soton.ac.uk, and many sites with multiple hosts name their public FTP server starting with "ftp...", e.g. ftp.ucc.ie in order to distinguish it from other servers like www.ucc.ie, news.ucc.ie, bb.ucc.ie, etc.

Additionally, IP addresses use a port number for security purposes. Though the default port of most FTP servers is 21, you should always check with the server administrator to make sure it's not using something different.

FTP Authentication

You need a username and password for the remote machine you want to send files to or get files from, but there is a special case of FTP called Anonymous FTP that uses a special publicly-known username ("anonymous") and accepts your email address as the password. Anonymous FTP allows Internet users access to huge repositories of millions of publicly-accessible files of software and data. If you are using FTP for a website upload you will have been given your username and password by the Webmaster.

What is an FTP Client?

An FTP Client is software that is designed to transfer files back-and-forth between two computers over the Internet. It needs to be installed on your computer and can only be used with a live connection to the Internet.

The classic FTP Client look is a two-pane design. Typically the pane on the left displays the files on your local computer and the pane on the right displays the files on the remote computer.

FTP clientThis screenshot from WS_FTP LE shows the local computer on the left and the remote computer--the Web server--on the right.

With an FTP client file transfers are as easy as dragging-and-dropping files from one pane to the other.

Can't I Use a Browser?

Some web browsers like Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc may be used for FTP file downloads, but many of them are restricted by their nature to getting one file per click; for a whole directory-full of files you have to get them one by one, which is tedious. Standard FTP clients, however, can download or upload whole directories of files with a single click, which makes them much preferable for large-scale work like uploading websites or getting multiple files from a repository.

Can't I Use Dreamweaver?

Some web page editor programs like DreamWeaver and even HomeSite have FTP uploading ("publishing") built in, and this can be used to manage a website very efficiently. However, these routines may be difficult to set up, and since they vary from software to software, I'd rather focus on the simplicity of FTP. At any rate, using a FTP client is a good way to understand the basics of uploading and downloading files to and from a server.

Filezilla

Many of the labs here at UVU have an FTP client program called Filezilla installed on them which will enable you to use FTP to transfer files to and from a FTP server. I've been using Filezilla for only a couple of months, but it is now my new favorite FTP client. Prior to Filezilla I had been using WS_FTP, the same client (and probably the same version) that I've used continually since 1995! Just so you know, WS_FTP LE is still a great FTP client, if you can find it. But Filezilla has drag n' drop, and WS_FTP never had that in its free version.

Now let me take you through the steps of actually using an FTP client like Filezilla.