FTP stands for file transfer protocol, or in layman's terms---a way to move your files into a place where people can download them and upload others. Just like HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) is the main way to transfer text over the Internet, FTP is the simple and secure way to send and receive files. Anytime you download a file from the Internet, you're using FTP. If you plan to create a website with anything downloadable, FTP is exactly what you'll use to get the job done.
How It Works
Files are uploaded to an FTP server. The server has a large memory capacity to host the files available for transfer. Files can be accessed through any Internet browser or any FTP software, referred to as a "client." Sometimes files are available permanently, but oftentimes, especially through a company, they may be available only temporarily. Check with the administrator to find out whether there is an automatic delete time frame.
One way to access these files directly is to use the FTP address through an Internet browser. The address will be similar to a website address, except instead of "http://," it will begin with "ftp://." You may need a login ID and password to access some FTP sites, which will typically automatically pop up in a dialogue box.
Inside an FTP Site
Once you're logged in, there will usually be a file structure, with main folders and subfolders, similar to what you may have in "My Documents" on your computer. This structure is set up by an administrator. Folders and files may be public or private, and access may include adding, moving, editing and/or deleting; so, if it seems like you can't do something, check with the administrator about the limits to your access.
However, when downloading from the internet, the FTP site is probably using an anonymous login, which is why you may have never known it was happening. The FTP address itself is usually hidden from the end user, though the file transfer process is the same.
If you start using an FTP site regularly, find yourself with multiple IDs or just want an easier access point, then an FTP client is something to consider. There are many free options available. It makes uploading much easier and protects downloads---simply drag and drop. It will store all of your frequented FTP sites, along with their respective logins and passwords, in one convenient place. Check out the resources below for a start, find one that suits your needs and preferences, and let the file transfers begin.
- File Transfer Planet
- Ted Hogan; Senior Technical Analyst; Oxford University Press, New York
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