FTP - What is it and how does it work?

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. FTP client software allows you to transfer files between your hard drive and a remote server. For instance, you could put your personal home page up on the Web by transferring files from your hard drive to a Web server or other Internet accessible computer.

Ever wonder what "http" stands for in all of the Web sites you access with your Web browser? Hypertext Transfer Protocol is how your browser transfers files from remote web servers to graphically display web content on your monitor. Although HTTP does a good job of downloading HTML files and the small bitmaps displayed within them, it was never designed to transfer large files. However, with FTP, you can download large files and resume transfer after interruptions, where you left off, saving time (read that "money") and aggravation (priceless).

FTP users find transferring files via e-mail attachments grossly inefficient or impractical when dealing with large documents. For uploading such files, FTP is the only open standard answer (e.g., for efficiently posting new HTML pages onto a Web site or sharing graphics-laden files).

Today, growing numbers of power users, telecommuters, and corporate Internet managers are unleashing the protocol's potential by using FTP clients file transfer software applications designed for users to minimize time spent online. In fact, for anyone that even touches the Internet, "FTP client" should be spoken in the same breath as "e-mail" and "browser" when describing efficient desktop needs.

How does FTP software work?

FTP requires a client (FTP program) installed on your PC to connect to your host, or server. Once you are logged in, you are presented with a directory. If files already exist on your host you can select the download to option and pull files off the FTP server to a specified directory on your computer. If you select the upload option, you must also select your PC directory that contains the files you wish to upload. The files are then copied from one location to the other. It's like copying files from one directory or folder on your PC, except that one of the folders could be on the East coast and the other folder on the West cost.

After you obtain an FTP program spend some time learning how to use it.

Each FTP program is different. Read the instructions first. Setup your FTP software to access your host computer. Enter the FTP host address you obtained earlier. If Anonymous is already selected on your FTP software screen, click on the Anonymous checkmark to de-select it. Enter your User ID and Password. If you see an option in your FTP program for a file type of either ASCII or binary, use ASCII when transferring HTML files, and binary when transferring graphics files. Or, if the option is available select auto-detect, and your program will automatically do this for you. Most FTP programs are setup to use Port 21. Don't change this unless your hosting service indicated to use a different port. In most cases you can ignore other entries on your FTP screen such as Use firewall, PASV mode, Description, etc. - unless your hosting service indicates otherwise.

Check your file names before you upload them.

Make sure they are all in lower case letters. Otherwise, they will not work on UNIX based hosts.

Next, create two test folders on your PC - Upload and Download. Select some test files and copy them to the Upload folder. Run your FTP software and logon to the Internet. Select the upload option on your FTP program and your PC folder Upload. Select the test files to transfer (FTP). Once uploaded, the test files should be viewable in your FTP window. Now select the FTP download option and download a few files to your Download folder. Continue to upload and download test files until you feel comfortable using your software.

Delete all test files on your host before you begin uploading your files.

Prepare files For uploading. Move all the files that you plan to upload to the same folder/directory on your computer. Double check to ensure they can be viewed locally with your browser using your navigation scheme.

FTP your files. Access your FTP software and transfer all the files (html, gif/jpeg and mid) in your PC folder to your Web site folder. Check to see that each of the file names you uploaded are viewable in the download window.

How do I FTP to my site?