Before cloud services became popular, the FTP protocol was practically the only alternative you had when you needed to transfer a significant amount of files over the internet. When they talk to you about the network, you are probably thinking about the sites you visit with your browser. However, HTTP is just one of the many protocols that make up the internet. But there are many others. IMAP and POP, for example, are those used by email clients to send and receive messages. XMPP is used to send and receive instant messages. And there is also DNS, to translate domain names into IP addresses.
FTP is another protocol and means "File Transfer Protocol" (File Transfer Protocol). It is one of the oldest protocols in use today, and is a convenient way to move files. An FTP server offers access to a directory with subdirectories. Users connect to these servers with an FTP client, a piece of software that allows them to download files from the server, as well as upload files to it.
Many Internet users will never need to use FTP, but if you are creating a website, it will be an essential tool on the web, and as such, it is worth knowing what it is, even if you are not a developer. We tell you below everything the average Internet user needs to know about FTP and how to use it.
What is FTP for?
FTP is a very useful tool to move information from the computer on which you are working to the server where a website is hosted. If you want to install WordPress on a web server, for example, you will need FTP to copy the files.
It is also occasionally used to share files. A person can upload a file to an FTP server and then share a link with another person. This type of use has become less common in the era of easy-to-use cloud services, but some people still prefer to keep their files hosted on a home server and use FTP to enable it.
FTP is one of the simplest and oldest formats created to quickly transfer files from one device to another. Its origins date back to 1971, when Abhay Bhushan created the first version. In the 1980s, the FTP format was updated to the TCP / IP version, which is associated with the servers.
FTP uses two basic channels to operate. One of the commands carries information about the task: what files should be accessed, if the commands are being registered, etc. Data, meanwhile, transfers the actual file data between the devices.
FTP connections can also have active and passive modes. The assets are the most common and allow open communication between server and device through both channels, with the first taking an active role in establishing the connection by approving data requests. However, this can be interrupted by firewalls or similar problems. In this way, there is a passive mode where the server does not actively maintain connections, allowing the other device to do all the work.
What does FTP look like?
Although it depends on the client you use to manage the files, it essentially looks like the other files on your computer. There is a hierarchical folder structure, which can be explored similarly to how you will do it in Windows Explorer or Finder.
You can get an idea of this by browsing on a public FTP server. For example, Adobe offers downloads of all its software through FTP, for customers who have software such as Photoshop with a valid product key but do not have their installation CD handy. Browsers such as Chrome and Firefox also support browsing FTP servers (although not uploading files).
At Reddit, r / opendirectories is a complete community dedicated to sharing publicly accessible FTP servers. However, many of these directories are full of pirated content, pornography or a mixture of both.
Using FTP to download files in this way is relatively rare. For the most part, FTP is used to upload files from your computer to a server you are working on.
Is FTP safe?
Not by design. The FTP dates back to 1971, long before cybersecurity was much more than a hypothetical field. This means that FTP transfers are not encrypted, so it is relatively easy to intercept files by any moderately knowledgeable person.
For this reason, many people use FTPS. Basically, it works the same way as FTP, but it encrypts everything, which means that prying eyes can't read any files, even if they intercept them. At this point, many servers refuse to offer unencrypted access, and instead offer only FTPS.
Which FTP clients are the best?
FileZilla and CyberDuck are two of our favorite FTP clients, and we can safely recommend them. They have all the functions and have existed for years, so they have established user interfaces and refined tools to make your FTP transfer process quick and easy.
Can I configure my own FTP server?
The short answer is s. Windows users can download and run the FileZilla server. Mac users, meanwhile, do not need any third-party software. Simply go to Share in the System preferences, then enable Remote Session. This will enable an FTPS server on your Mac, which gives you a secure way to explore your computer and capture files with any FTP client.
However, you will need an FTP client installed on another computer to explore your files. Only use the IP address for the computer that you previously configured as a server.
To access files from outside your home network, you must configure port forwarding on your router. And if you plan to make an FTP server accessible on-line, it is a good idea to block it with good encryption.
* Updated by Rodrigo Orellana on January 8, 2020.