A Short Guide to FTP Client

Note: File Zilla has been recommended as FTP client in this article but recently I came across an uncomfortable issue. The issue is that File Zilla [version 3.0 onwards stores passwords in form of plain text and thus are vulnerable to abuse. Please use your discretion when you use the software.]

 

Being a blogger, I do most of the things myself, just like most of the bloggers do. There are many things a blogger should know, and though writing and publishing is the job to concentrate upon to push your blog, there are other chores to take care of. There are many things  you would be using them on frequent basis. One of such thing is file transfer protocol and File Transfer Protocol client or FTP client.

Let us understand the FTP process first.

What is FTP?

FTP is short for File Transfer Protocol. A protocol is a set of rules that networked computers use to talk to one another. And FTP is the language that computers on a TCP/IP network (such as the internet) use to transfer files to and from each other.

What is FTP Client?

FTP client is a software that establishes a connection between a host computer and a remote server [ FTP server], and allows transfer of data and files between two computers over an internet connection.

An FTP client is a reliable means to transfer data between a local and remote host. It identifies and connects to host by authenticating the domain, IP address, username and password of that server.

After the connection, host computer can upload data onto the FTP server. FTP client is able to support multiple simultaneous file transfers and can connect to multiple FTP servers simultaneously.

Host computer can also download files from the FTP server using the FTP client.

How Does FTP Client Work?

To use a server, FTP client needs to establish a connection. It connects to host and needs to login. It is just like any other login, using a username and password.

Address to an FTP server looks like ftp.yoursite.com. Server would ask you for username and password. A port number is often attached to the address like ftp.yoursite.com:20

A port is like a little door on the server, with a server having many such doors, each port handling a specific type of traffic. By default, FTP protocol is handled by ports 20 and 21 by default and HTTP (the protocol that’s used to serve web pages to a browser) requests are handled by port 80.

The FTP address [usually including port number] and other authentication details are usually given to you by your web host in a welcome email. If you are not sure, you can mail your host.

An FTP client stores all this information for a particular FTP server so that you need not to type credentials [username, password, port] every time you would like to login to FTP server.

Many public servers on the Internet allow users to log in and download files via FTP by connecting anonymously. This is a very common practice in the world of open-source and freely distributed software.

Most of the time, you are required to enter “anonymous” as your user name and your email address as your password.

Types of File transfers over FTP

File transfer takes two different forms, ASCII and binary.

ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange and is a set of 128 symbols that any computer in the world can display.

Files that can be safely transferred in ASCII mode

  • Text files
  • HTML files
  • CGI scripts

Files that need binary mode

  • Images
  • Applications
  • .zip, .sit or .tar packages
  • Proprietary file formats such as .doc, .xls, .fla, .swf
  • Anything that’s not made entirely of text characters!

I must be noted that both ASCII and binary files can be sent in binary mode with no problems, but sending a binary file in ASCII mode will corrupt the binary file’s structure.

FTP client, usually, will automatically detect which transfer mode is required. Sometimes, the transfer may be in binary mode by default, and ASCII mode is used when it’s absolutely needed. This is because ASCII mode makes for faster transfers

If there’s any doubt, transfer in binary mode except for CGI scripts which must always be transferred in ASCII mode.

What to Look for When Choosing an FTP Client

Interface

An FTP Client should have easy to use and intuitive interface that clearly displays both the local and remote server. The interface is very easy to navigate and operate in commercial clients like WS_FTP from IPSwitch when compared with free client like FileZilla.

Store and Manage Multiple Accounts

It is very cumbersome to type in the details for establishing a connection. Most of the FTP clients have built in site manager which is able to store multiple server information.

An FTP client should allow multiple simultaneous file transfers from a single server. It should also be able to create multiple login accounts on multiple servers

It should be able to create in and log out of the sessions

Mode of Transfer

FTP client should auto-detect or warn you when ASCII mode is required

Change Directory Permissions

With FTP client, you should be able to change directory permissions when needed. It saves the hassles of visiting and working from cpanel.

Anonymous

It should allow anonymous FTP if server allows

Few recommended FTP clients

Windows

FileZilla

I personally use this FTP client and it is a great free tool for FTP functions. You may need to get used to the interface though.

WS_FTP

WS_FTP Pro is by Ipswitch. WS_FTP offers a clean interface and connection management tools but has a price tag of about $50 [rough conversion from my local currency]

Mac

Fetch and Transmit are two commercial FTP clients for Mac useds.

Fugu and FileZilla are the free ones.

When would you need to Use FTP Client in your blog

My first FTP CLIENT was WS_FTP from IP Switch. It was a paid software and was very good at its work. Those days, there were not many free options available which were good as well.

In those days, I used FTP for uploading new pages to my site, upload image, download file, edit and reupload the image, change permissions of the directories, upload ebooks and other downloadable zip files.

Come to present times.

WordPress takes care of most of the functions and you do not need as much FTP. You can upload and install a theme from admin interface, you can edit a file from admin interface and you can upload images and other downloadable media from your WordPress editor.

Rest of the upload/download could be done from CPanel.

When I shifted to dedicated WordPress hosting by Synthesis for one of my sites, it did not get Capnel access and it did not allow editing the file from WordPress admin interface.

FTP was only solution to change the files.

So you may need FTP frequently as you delve more into blogging and managing all its aspects.

What do you use for FTP? How would you rate your experience?

FileZilla is a cross-platform FTP client [ A cross-platform software is one that works on more than one platforms e.g FileZilla works on Linux, Mac and Windows].

FTP today is not required as often as before due to changing ability of many content management systems and changing web technologies like cloud and browser based file transfers.

But some times you need an FTP client, and when that happens where should you go?

FileZilla is an FTP client that is free and allows the user to quickly and easily transfer files to and from an FTP server with a drag-and-drop interface.

In January 2012 cNet.com gave FileZilla, 5 out of 5 stars.

FileZilla was started as a computer science class project in the second week of January 2001 by Tim Kosse and friends. They decided to make FileZilla an open-source project, because there were already many FTP clients available and they didn’t think that they would sell a single copy if they made FileZilla FTP client commercial.

FileZilla FTP Client Download and Installation

You can download the latest version of FileZilla FTP client here. The software comes bundled with other softwares, so take care not to install what you think is not required. For Windows, the installation is very straightforward. You click on the downloaded package and follow the installation instructions.

FileZilla FTP Client Features

Interface

Interface of FileZilla, though not very intuitive is easy and straightforward to use .When you open FileZilla after installation, it presents you the interface you would work upon. The arrangement of FileZilla is such that on left side your computer’s files and folders and on right side your connected server files would be arranged.

So on right side is your server and on left side is your computer.

You can also use network configuration wizard for connection.

You can connect to the server using authentication provided by your host. Initially, you would be presented with root folder of your site. You would need to navigate to the desired folder and file for uploading, downloading or editing a file.

After you have reached the desired folder, you can just drag the file on your computer [left column] to the server [ right column] to the desired folder to upload.

Similarly, to transfer the file from server to computer [download, drag the file from server to your computer.

Double clicking a file in one column would start the transfer to other. For example, if you double click a file in your computer’s column, it would be uploaded to your server.

Right clicking a file also provides the transfer option in addition to many other options.

FTP, FTPS, SFTP Support

Apart from FTP, FileZilla FTP Client supports FTPS and SFTP

FTPS is FTP with SSL for security. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It provides a secure connection between internet browsers and websites, allowing you to transmit private data online. Sites secured with SSL display a padlock in the browsers URL and possibly a green address bar if secured by an EV Certificate.

As it uses SSL, it requires a certificate.

FTPS (FTP/SSL) involves the use of a SSL/TLS layer below the standard FTP protocol to encrypt the control and/or data channels.

SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol/Secure File Transfer Protocol) was designed as an extension of SSH to provide file transfer capability, so it usually uses only the SSH port for both data and control. Secure Shell, or SSH stands for secure shell and is encrypted network protocol for initiating text-based shell sessions on remote machines in a secure way.

It provides file transfer and manipulation functionality over any reliable data stream. It is typically used with the SSH-2 protocol (TCP port 22) to provide secure file transfer, but is intended to be usable with other protocols as well.

Cross Platform

As noted in the intro, FileZilla is cross-platform software. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux.

IPv4 and IPv6 Support

identify devices on a network through an addressing system. IPv4 is the most widely deployed Internet protocol that can connect over 4 billion addresses.  With the growth of the Internet it is expected that the number of unused IPv4 addresses will eventually run out because every device — including computers, smartphones and game consoles — that connects to the internet requires an address.

A new internet addressing system Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is being deployed to match the need.

IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) is also called IPng (Internet Protocol next generation) and it is the newest version of the Internet Protocol.
IPv6 is designed to allow the Internet to grow steadily, both in terms of the number of hosts connected and the total amount of data traffic transmitted.

In IPv4 IP address is binary numbers but can be stored as text for human readers.

IPv6 addresses are 128-bit IP address written in hexadecimal and separated by colons.

FileZilla supports both protocols.

Multi Language Support

FileZilla supports more than 47 languages at this time. These are Arabic, Armenian, Basque, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Corsican, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, German, Greek, Estonian, Finnish, French, Gallegan, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Georgian, Khmer, Korean, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Lithuanian, Latvian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Nepali, Occitan, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.

You should check the official website for actual support.

Resume and Transfer

FileZilla FTP client supports resume which means the file transfer process can be paused and continued from the point it paused at a later stage.

Multitasking

FileZilla allows connection to multiple servers and each different server is shown in a separate tab. It can also even transfer files simultaneously between multiple servers. The files can be queued for transfer using site manager function.

You even can bookmark easy access to most frequent use.

You can also the speed transferring the files, which helps reducing error of transferring.

Compare Directory Contents

With directory comparison, you can compare local files and server files in the same directory. When the file doesn’t have the same information (name not match, or size not match) it will highlight that file in colour.

With filename filters, users can filters only specific files that have the conditions they want.

Remote File Editing

With remote file editing, you do not need the file to download, edit on your computer and then manually upload. When you choose to edit file [after right click on the file name], file is automatically downloaded and opened for your editing. When the task of editing is complete, it asks you if you want to upload the file and erase local file on your computer. Saves hassles.

Keep-Alive Support

With keep-alive function, if the connection has been idle for the long time it will check by sending keep-alive command.

Remote File Search

FileZilla allows to conduct a remote file search to search file on the server remotely.

Other Features

FileZilla FTP logs the events and supports HTTP/1.1, SOCKS5 and FTP-Proxy protocols

The Problem of Password Encryption or Non-encryption with FileZilla FTP Client

From version 3 onwards, FileZilla stores all saved usernames and passwords as plain text files. This allows any malware that has gained even limited access to the user’s system to simply read the data stored in these files and to remotely transfer this data to the attacker. Potentially handing over control of websites and servers used for further spreading malware.

This is the feature that makes FileZilla less attractive though the developers say that if your system is secure nothing would happen

With FTP needed and used infrequently, this might not be a big problem. But still I would not store passwords into FileZilla.

May be in future we have some solutions.

 

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