What is FTP?
FTP stands for File
Transfer Protocol. This means that it is a standardized, agreed-upon method
(protocol) for transferring files between two different computers, generally
computers that are not on the same network, and which are only connected via
the Internet using TCP/IP.
When you are doing FTP, you are generally seated at a particular
computer working away at things. This computer is usually referred to as the
local host. You will then log onto a remote computer,
located somewhere else, called the remote host. Often
you will not know where this computer is. All you know is its name or its IP
address. But if you have either of those you can reach the remote computer and
log on to it. Once you are logged on to the remote computer, you can transfer
files from your local host to the remote host (called uploading),
or you can transfer files from the remote host to your local host (called downloading).
Generally, to accomplish this task you need to have an account
on each computer, and be logged in to that account. Your local host may or may
not require a login, depending on the operating system and where it is set up.
Most home computers using Windows 95/98 will not insist on a login. The same
type of computer on a corporate network probably will require that you be logged
in before you have access to the computer. The remote host, though, will always
require a login. This means that before you can begin an FTP session you will
need three things:
- The name of the server (or its IP address)
- A user name that is authorized to login to that computer
- A password that identifies you as the legitimate user of that account
If you do not have all three of these, don’t bother trying to login and begin
an FTP session, because you won’t get far. For Web sites, the company or host
that provides your Web site should provide you with all three of these. If you
do not know what they are, you should contact their customer service department
and ask for this information. Write it down and store it securely, since you
may need it again someday.
How to use FTP
You could, if you were sufficiently well informed, telnet to the remote host,
login, and begin transferring files by typing cryptic commands. But this is
fairly geeky stuff to do, and not really necessary. A good FTP client can do everything you need. I recommend FileZilla, a free open source FTP client
Once you have acquired an FTP client, you need to install it and configure
it. Installation is pretty much standard, you run an *.exe file, tell it which
directory to install into, etc. Then you need to open the program and give it
some information. Since you may have more than one account you need to work
with (such as having multiple Web sites to administer), most clients will let
you configure more than one account. But for each account you configure you
will need the three pieces of information mentioned above (server name, login
name, password). I will run through a quick example using WS-FTP-LE, but it
will be pretty similar for any other client.
When you first open WS-FTP-LE, you have a window for creating a Profile. The
name you give here is just something that helps you to remember what this particular
account is for. You can give it any name you like. If you click the drop-down
arrow on the right of Profile name, you will see that there are a number of
profiles already created there. These are for public servers that allow anonymous
FTP, and they are already configured for you. You can delete any of them if
Under that is the host name. This is the name of the server that you get from
your Web host.
Under that is Host Type. Generally speaking, you will have the best results
by leaving that on Automatic Detect. But in some cases, if automatic detect
does not work, you can contact the customer service department at your Web host
and find out the specific type of server they use and select that instead. In
my case, I have never had a problem with Automatic Detect.
Next is User ID. This is the user name, or login name, that identifies your
Next is the password. Note that you can check the box next to it and the password
will be stored by WS-FTP-LE so that you do not need to enter it each time you
If you have all the information correctly entered, just click the connect button
at the lower left and you should connect to the remote host. If this goes well,
you will see something like this:
On the left is the local host, and the hard drive is being displayed. On the
right is the directory on the remote host that this account has access rights
to. If you need to create additional directories on the remote host, just click
the MkDir button and type in the name. You can rename files on the remote host
with the Rename button, delete files with the Delete button, etc. To transfer
a file from your local host to the remote host, find the file in the left-hand
window, click on it once to highlight and select it, click the correct button
for file type (images are all binary files, HTML pages are all ASCII files),
then click the button that points from the left to the right. Your file will
be uploaded, and the view of the remote host will update to show that file.
To download a file, just find it in the right-hand window, select and highlight
it, select the file type, and click on the button that points from the right
to the left.
One last thing. If you want to make sure that this Profile always opens to
a certain directory on your hard drive, or to a certain directory on the remote
host, first navigate to the appropriate directories in each window. When you
have both of them the way you want them, click on the Options button at the
bottom, select Session, and click the button that says “Save Current Folders
as Connection Folders”. From now on, any time you connect to this profile,
you will always have these directories appear in your windows.
There are lots of other features to any good FTP program, so feel free to explore
some of them. Any other program will operate similarly to WS-FTP-LE, so with
a little experimenting you should be up and running in no time. If you have
any questions, e-mail me. I’d love to hear
FTP for PCs by Kevin O'Brien is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.