FTP: The Ultimate Guide to File Transfer Protocol

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Data sharing is present in nearly every part of our lives. If you want to share a photo with a friend, you send a text. If you're applying for a loan, you might send some documents to your bank via email. File sharing is easier now than ever, and there are so many ways to do it. However, if you need to share files with a large group, emails may not be the most efficient way. Consider using FTP to take advantage of having the World Wide Web at your fingertips.

What is FTP?

FTP, or file transfer protocol, is a way to move files from one machine or server to another. In the days before cloud services and other remote storage, it was also a good option for sharing files. It is one of many protocols that may go unnoticed in your daily browsing activity. The protocol you are likely most familiar with is HTTP, which prefixes the addresses you visit in your browser. HTTP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol, allows you to access resources, usually webpages, on a server.

FTP, by contrast, allows you to transfer files, not just view them. FTP servers facilitate file transfer using two different channels. The control or command channel, usually on port 21, is where you provide your credentials. It stays open until you close your connection or your session times out. The actual data transfer happens on the data channel, usually on port 20. FTP does allow multiple files to be transferred at once, but you will need a port for each file you plan to move concurrently.

There are two FTP connection modes. In the active mode, the server specifies a port at random that the client will be using for file transfer. In the more commonly used passive mode, your client tells the server which port to use for the data transfer. The passive connection mode is the standard today to avoid security pitfalls of the active mode. If your machine is inside a firewall, having the server choose the port may result in a blocked connection because of the limited number of ports that are accessible to outside entities.

Similar to HTTP and HTTPS, there is a secure analog to FTP called SFTP. Most FTP clients will have SFTP as a protocol option. Because FTP is not as secure as other protocols, support for it is waning in the technology space. Some browsers like Google Chrome actually now disable FTP by default and may not have the option at all in future versions.

How to use FTP

There are several options for executing FTP commands at your disposal. If you are comfortable with the command line, Windows and Mac computers both allow you to connect to FTP servers via the command prompt or terminal. You can also connect to FTP servers using your browser. You may have done this without realizing it while downloading software. If you prefer a graphical interface, there are many FTP clients available as a free download from the internet. Whichever method you use, the interaction will be the same. You will be prompted to authenticate, typically with a username and password. Once connected, you can navigate through the server just as you would navigate your file system and upload or download files. ]

FTP as part of your file management

If you are looking to organize and declutter your local file system, file compression is just one of many options available to you. You can free up resources on your machine by utilizing remote storage. As part of its cloud services, WinZip allows you to upload files to FTP sites via the Save menu. Try WinZip today for a more efficient workflow.

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