File Transfer Protocol (FTP)


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Tutorial Overview

Topics covered in this tutorial (click link to jump to topic):

1. Introduction 5. Useful FTP Commands
2. Objectives of FTP 6. Difference between Binary and ASCII Transfers
3. Moving Around FTP Directories 7. FTP Software
4. Using Windows' Built-in FTP Program 8. Difference between Shareware and Freeware



File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, is a protocol used for transferring files from one computer to another - typically from your computer to a web server. FTP is the preferred method of exchanging files because it's faster than other protocols like HTTP or POP. If you need to exchange large files, you should consider FTP.

FTP data is sent and received through computer port 21 and under the TCP protocol. The transfer is asynchronous, meaning not at the same time, and therefore faster than other protocols.

Objectives of FTP were:

  1. to promote sharing of files (computer programs and/or data),
  2. to encourage indirect or implicit (via programs) use of remote computers,
  3. to shield a user from variations in file storage systems among hosts, and
  4. to transfer data reliably and efficiently.

FTP is designed mainly for use by programs though it is usable directly by a user at a terminal. More History>>

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FTP in Review

As well as web servers, mail servers and chat servers, the Internet houses FTP servers. These are servers that are like libraries of software or files that you can go to and "download". "Downloading" means copying a file to your computer. Conversely, "uploading" means to transmit a file from your computer to another computer on the Internet.

Typically, when you visit an FTP server with a WYSIWYG* FTP program (like CuteFTP) you will be presented with a list of directories. A directory is identified by the characters "dir", for "directory" or a little yellow folder icon. If you click on this line you will go down the directory tree to more directories or to the files in that directory, or both.

Today most FTP sites can be viewed using a standard web browser. The web browser will list the directories and files in blue (denoting a link below). You can click on these links to commence a download.

Simply type the URL of the server into the location box. For example: will give you a listing of all the directories of the FTP server; which will give you a listing of all the files available in that directory; and will download the actual file to your computer.

Many FTP servers are ‘anonymous' FTP servers, which means you can log in with the username ‘anonymous’ and your e-mail address as the password.

In the past you needed a special piece of software to view the files on an FTP server. You still need file transfer software if you want to "upload" files to an FTP or web server. This is required if you want to put pages on the web.

There are a number of FTP programs around. The two most used packages are CuteFTP and WSFTP LE. These can be downloaded from many, many web sites. Inside an FTP program you will notice that the window is divided into two panes. The pane on the left shows directories and files on your computer. The pain on the right is the public access area of the FTP server you are visiting.

* = "what you see is what you get"

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Moving Around FTP Directories

You can move through levels of directories in the same way that you do in Windows Explorer in Windows. In other words, double mouse click on a directory to see its contents. Move up the directories by clicking on the up arrow folder icon and down directories by clicking on the directory's folder icon.

Lets say you had built a web site and you wanted to upload all your files to your ISP's web server. In the left pane you would go to the directory with your HTML files and picture files in it. In the right pane you would find your "work space" (supplied by your ISP, usually 5MB). In the left pane you would highlight the files you want to move to the web server and then click the up pointing arrow. Note that you can delete and rename files in your FTP program.

FTP Client
The Cute FTP interface. The left hand panes shows your "local files".
The right hand pane represents files on the server, or the "remote" files.
You can upload by dragging and dropping OR double clicking files OR
using the up arrow.

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Using Windows 95/98/ME/2000 Built-in FTP Program

The FTP client is a DOS command-line client

  1. Click Start / Run
  2. In the field, "Open", type ftp
  3. Click "OK."
  4. At the prompt, ftp>, type open.
  5. Press [Enter].
  6. At the prompt, To: type the ftp address of the server you want to access.
    E.g. or
  7. Press [Enter].
  8. At the prompt, User, enter your username
    (your username may be your email address name, or another login that your web administrator has given you).
  9. Password: enter your password. It will not show as you type it.
  10. To list the files in your home directory, enter, lbs for "list"
  11. To change to your home directory (assuming you have one), enter cd public _html or http docs
  12. To change to the directory on your computer, where your home page files are located, enter, lcd (directory name)

Useful FTP Commands

  • ascii
    Changes to text mode. This is necessary for uploading a homepage file (index.html). The letters "ASCII" stands for "American Standard Code for Information Interchange"
  • binary
    Changes to binary mode. Necessary to upload a binary file, such as a picture.
  • dir
    List files, with more info than "Lbs"
  • put (filename)
    Upload (filename) from your machine.
  • get (filename)
    Download (filename) to your machine.
  • CD (directory name)
    Changes directory on the remote machine.
  • LCD (directory name)
    Changes directory on your local (home) computer.
  • mg et (files)
    Download multiple files to your machine.
  • mp ut (files)
    Upload multiple files from your machine.
  • bye
    Close the ftp session.
  • quit/close/bye/disconnect: to disconnect from the FTP server.
  • help
    Shows a list of available ftp commands.

difference between Binary and ASCII transfers

Binary transfer is for binary files, such as executable, graphic or compressed files. ASCII transfer is for text files, such as HTML documents and pure ASCII text (such as notepad files).

If you use WS-FTP or CuteFTP as your FTP program, tick the AUTO box at the bottom of the program screen to have the software automatically determine which transfer method to use.

If you transfer Binary files using ASCII transfer method, you will corrupt your files on the server, making them unreadable.

If you transfer ASCII files using Binary transfer method you will alter the formatting of the text contained in the file itself. This doesn't seem like such a big deal, until you try to open this file again.

Strange things will happen, such as all the carriage returns being stripped out, or if the uploaded HTML or text file need to be opened by a UNIX-based text editor such as VI or PICO, the user will see a ^M at the end of each line, very ugly and difficult to read.

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FTP Software

To download ftp software go to:

Or for Macintosh…

You will need expansion utilities (programs that un compress compressed files) to use some files you download from the web or ftp servers. Increasingly though the software comes "packed" with its own expansion program and all you have to do is run the file from the "Run" command line on the "Start" menu.

More Resources

Difference Shareware and Freeware

Many of the programs you download are "shareware". They are not free. Although a shareware program can sometimes be used indefinitely, normally to download the program, you agree to only use it for evaluation purposes, usually for 30 days, before paying $20 for continued use. Note also that software developers often disable useful features to encourage you to purchase a full working copy of the software. For example a game may only let you get to two levels out of six. Or an HTML editor will only let you write 80 lines before prompting you to buy a full working copy.

Remember shareware represents the hard work of programmers who are often trying to make a living working from home or in their spare time.

Freeware is truly free. Registration and payment are not required. It only costs what you pay to be on-line - so if you download MS Internet Explorer 7 at 35MB, you may end up paying for 4-6 hours on-line time. So stay up late and do it when the net is quiet.

WARNING!: Downloaded files can carry viruses. Virus check all the files you download.

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