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Demystifying FTP: A Simple Way to Transfer Content

written by: Karishma Sundaram•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/5/2011

FTP is a great technology, which is surprisingly not leveraged to its maximum potential. Lots of people are frightened off by the associated jargon, little realizing using FTP could aid in adding another dimension to their work. Why do I need FTP?

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    In most home offices, maintaining a website is an important part of marketing. A website that has dynamic content and rich graphics tends to have a much better impact that one that doesn’t. File Transfer Protocol is an easy way to transfer big files, to and from the website server.

    Additionally, depending on the type of work that is being done, transferring large files may be important. For example, most writers that work out of home usually submit pictures along with their articles. Or alternatively, a freelance graphics designer could leverage the benefits of FTP to their advantage.

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    FTP basics

    FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is an Internet protocol that was created to address the issue of data transfer. It is extremely simple to manipulate FTP, as all that is required is a software application dedicated to FTP and an FTP site or server. The information that is required is very basic: the server name or address and the port, and the username and password, for authentication. This information is then used to connect to the server, and once the connection is established, the files can be manipulated easily.

    There are two ways of connecting to an FTP server: one is to use a software application, and the other is to use a browser-based utility. We will have a look at both types here.

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    1. Filezilla

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    One of the most popular FTP clients for the Windows platform, Filezilla is totally free of cost. It is distributed under the GNU license. The interface is extremely simple, with drag-and-drop functionality to transfer files and folders easily from the local machine to the FTP server. FileZilla also has a software application for setting up an FTP server, and this operates under the same license as the client. While the client can run on any operating system, the server is necessarily a Windows-based program.

    Filezilla is the ability to transfer using the secure SSL protocols, addressing a concern that files can be intercepted easily using FTP.

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    2. Core FTP

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    Core FTP is a feature-rich software application which incorporates encryption and decryption of files, scheduling facilities, compression support for zipped files and integration with browsers, in addition to email support. While there is a lightweight free version, most of these features are contained in the Pro release of the product. The strongest point of this particular application is the immense emphasis that it places on security.

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    3. SmartFTP

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    SmartFTP has all the features that the others have and one unique and rather useful additional feature: it has a visual preview option. The preview functionality is a very useful tool, especially when handling image or multimedia files. In addition to that, it is possible with SmartFTP to compare the contents of two folders, to determine the differences. SmartFTP is great for website maintenance, when storing multimedia files is important.

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    4. Fire FTP

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    FireFTP is an example of the browser-based utility. Especially created as a Mozilla Firefox add-on this nifty little tool has great visual interfaces and is extraordinarily easy to use. Because Mozilla Firefox is a cross-platform application, FireFTP can also be used across most operating systems.

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    As mentioned earlier, FTP is very effective in maintaining websites, especially transferring content easily. The FTP server can reside on the website server, and the addresses of the individual files can be referenced within the website for loading. The basics of using FTP are simple to grasp, requiring no specialist knowledge whatsoever. Most of the FTP services are free of charge; a rather important consideration in a home office.