What is FTP?

Dear readers, today I present to you another guest post giving an introduction to FTP by ┬áthe wonderful NathanKP. For those interested in suggesting their own topics or writing a post to be published (you will be credited accordingly, we have a new “Spam Us” link up there on the navigation just for that very use :) Enjoy.

Right, a short introduction.

FTP is a protocol, or communication technique, that runs on the internet. Unlike the HTTP protocol which is designed specifically for transmitting HTML and XHTML documents, the FTP protocol is designed to transmit just about any type of file between computers. Since FTP is a different protocol it has its own prefix. When browsing the internet using a browser it is common to access addresses with the prefix “http://”. However FTP uses a different prefix: “ftp://”.

FTP is a very flexible protocol in that it makes file distribution easier when you are dealing with different operating systems, different file storage systems, or character encodings. Unlike the difficulty of setting up a file sharing network between a Unix and a Windows computer, setting up FTP is much easier because both computers can “talk” the common FTP language.

What is an FTP site?

An FTP site is like a file cabinet where files are stored. Like a web server which stores the HTML documents that internet users can access, an FTP server stores files that can be distributed to users. When a user browses to a web url that begins with “ftp://” the FTP server responds and sends a list of the available files to the persons browsing program. This list forms the FTP site itself.

An FTP site can also include security measures to prevent malicious users from performing denial of service attacks or to limit the people who can download the data from the FTP site. For example a company might have an FTP server so that its programmers can all access global project files. However, it would not be good if just anyone could get on the FTP site and steal the companies source code files.

Therefore FTP servers often check the domain names of their users against a internal list of known and trusted people. They also require a login process. For public FTP sites that anyone can use there is often a login where the username is “anonymous” and the password is your email address, which the FTP server will store for future reference.

More secure FTP servers will require a registration process which gives you a real username and password that allows you access to the FTP site.

What is an FTP client?

The FTP client is the program which you use to view and download files on an FTP server. Just like a browser is required to view webpages, an FTP client is needed to see the file list on an FTP server and download the files. The transfer language and protocol used wouldn’t make sense to most users just as pure HTML wouldn’t be very useful to someone who wanted to view a webpage. That is why the FTP client is needed to interpret.

FTP clients come in many flavors. Some are graphical, operating much like the Explorer program on your computer. They show the list of files on the FTP server and give you a convenient way to transfer them to your local computer, usually by drag and drop. A command line FTP client may require you to enter the exact filename of the file you want to download.

However there are many different free FTP clients on the internet, so it should be easy to find one that it is easy for you to use.

This is a guest post from none other than NathanKP from Inkweaver Review.

Dion Moult

I've been developing software for well over 10 years, work as an architect (not the computer kind, the regular sort), and am classically trained as a pianist. I try to do the right thing when I get the chance in my field, such as through contributing to open-source communities and promoting sustainable living.

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