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What is FTP? Everything You Need to Know

File Transfer

We look at a web page today and never bother to ask what technology went into creating it or how exactly it was made available to us. So much expertise and brainpower goes into the creation, publishing and hosting of a single webpage with a single line or image on it that it boggles the mind – so much goes into making every single page on every single website on the internet, it’s actually pretty astounding.

Among those inventions that play an important role in bringing web designers’ pages to life is something called File Transfer Protocol, or FTP. Probably one of the most important and widely used protocols on the internet, FTP is used directly by those in technology, like web developers and designers, and indirectly by users like us, people who use front-end applications with FTP running in the background. Generally, it’s invisible to most users, but makes a world of difference when it comes to our lives online.

About File Transfer Protocol

FTP is the standard way of sending and receiving files over the internet, most commonly sending web pages to web servers. Website developers use it extensively whenever they want to upload and download data from their web hosting servers. Typically, they design and test their pages on their own computers and, once everything appears and works as it should, they upload it to their sites’ servers where visitors can easily access them. FTP creates a bridge between the designer’s computer and the target server, accepting those files and pushing them out. Similarly, a file can also be downloaded from a server to a computer.

Basics of FTP

FTP is actually made up of two components: the client protocol that runs on a user’s computer and the server protocol, which sits on the hosting server and “listens” for connection requests from clients seeking to create a connection tunnel. A web developer wanting to upload a web page would fire up the client FTP (by either using an application or simply typing in the command in a web browser) and sending a connection request to the server. Once the authentication is complete, the developer is allowed access to the folder system that has been allocated to them. He or she then simply pushes the developed page to the appropriate folder on the server, making it available to designated recipients (or to the entire public.)

Initially, using FTP was quite a challenge. Users on the clients’ side needed to remember the commands required for sending and receiving files. For those not in technology, it proved to be a bit demanding. Thankfully, that isn’t the case anymore as there are many free FTP client applications with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that do everything more intuitively with the click of a mouse. One of our favorites is FileZilla, which provides free FTP and Core FTP.

FTP Servers and Accounts

There are two types of FTP servers. The first type allows people to login anonymously. This means that anyone wanting to access the files shared on these servers can simply use “anonymous” as a username and an email address or “guest” as a password. These servers usually host public data and anyone is welcome to download them. The second types are called secured servers and only allow authenticated users to login. Users must create accounts before they are assigned specific folders they can use to upload or store their files.

FTP Hosting

Some web hosting sites offer FTP hosting. Users can create FTP accounts with ease and grant access to whomever they want.

You can create an account by logging in to your hosting server and using the FTP administration features available to you. (BlueHost is an excellent web host that allows FTP connections.) Next, you can assign a username and a password to the FTP account you create. Finally the access is set: if a specific folder is to be accessed by the user(s), find the directly by typing directory/folder/subfolder/etc. and click “Create FTP Account.” Any user can fire up their FTP application and, using the newly created FTP username and password, login to the FTP server. Web developers can usually skip these steps and simply use their FTP client software to push pages to folders.

Don’t Forget FTP Next Time You’re Browsing!

FTP is one of the least appreciated protocols in cyber technology today. And yet, it has been bridging connected machines since the advent of the internet. It deserves to be given its long overdue appreciation. The next time you look at a web page, don’t forget: FTP made it all possible!

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