What is FTP?
FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, enables the transfer of files between computers.
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File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, is a common method of moving files from one computer to another, especially when you need to transfer files to a server or webhosting service.
The purpose of FTP is to accommodate website development. Creating and maintaining a website involves a lot of data transfer between two computer locations. This allows for changes to quickly be made to files and then published online.
FTP enables a user to upload website files (e.g., pages, images, videos, etc.) from a personal computer to the server where the website is located or hosted. The files on the server can likewise be transferred to the personal computer in a similar fashion.
FTP vs. FTPS
FTP was not designed to be secure, and in today’s online world FTP is in fact quite weak from a security standpoint. Many websites have vulnerabilities via the FTP server, such as packet capture, where an external source intercepts data being transferred between a personal computer and Web server. FTP is not able to encrypt data, meaning all data is submitted as clear text with usernames, passwords and commands easily readable by any who intercept it.
FTPS — the "S" is for "secure" — is an enhancement to the FTP standard that allows you to request an FTP session to be encrypted. This requires that both the personal computer and remote server agree upon an encryption method, so if a personal computer attempting to intercept data doesn’t have the credentials for an FTPS connection, the server will deny them access to data being transmitted.
Two reasons exist for why you wouldn’t need to use the FTPS standard. If files are of a non-sensitive nature or already encrypted at the file level, you won’t need a secure connection. If file usage meets these criteria, then the regular FTP standard is the ideal option.
How FTP works
To use FTP, you need an FTP client installed on your computer. To transfer files to a server or webhost, the client will need to have a hostname, user ID and password, which will allow the computer to connect to another server. The hostname typically reads as “ftp.hostname.com,” whereas the user ID and password are what were given to you when you first purchased webhosting.
If the information is correctly entered, the FTP client will instantly connect to the other server. The connection is indicated by the appearance of files and folders on the right side of the FTP client, whereas the left side will display files from your computer. At this point, users can transfer files between server and personal computer with relative ease. Simply dragging a file between computers will instantly copy the file to the new computer location. In addition, users can also view, rename, delete and move files on the remote server via the FTP client.
FTP uses a dynamic secondary port on a computer, which is used as a data channel or delivery method. Many firewalls are designed to investigate FTP connections to determine if the data connection should be allowed. If you use FTPS, the firewall will be unable to determine which data port the data transfer is requesting and kill the connection.