March 2, 2021

What is FTP?

FTP (File transfer protocol) is a way to transfer files online. When you visit a website in your browser through " the internet" , your browser only uses one protocol i.e. HTTP. There are so many other protocols, that collectively make up the internet. IMAP and POP, for instance, these two protocols are used for email clients to allow the user to send and receive messages. FTP is another protocol.

FTP is one of the oldest protocols today and is one of the most convenient ways to move files. An FTP server allows access to a directory, with sub-directories. Clients will connect to the FTP server through an FTP client, a piece of software that lets you download/upload files from and to the FTP server.

Many users will never have come across the term or ever used FTP for anything, however, it does have some important uses, especially for those individuals who may be studying internet data from the ground up. Here are some of the key points you will need to know.

What is FTP for?

FTP is a useful tool for moving information from your local device (remote computer) onto the web server, for instance, you will need FTP to copy the files over onto the web server.

It's also sometimes used for sharing files. For example, one person may upload a file to an FTP server and then proceed to share the link with another person. This usage has become less common over the ages (with easy-to-use cloud hosting services) but some people prefer to have their files hosted on a home server and use FTP to enable that.

FTP is by far the simplest, and earliest formats created to move files from one device to another. FTP's origins start all the way back in 1971! When the first version was created and released by Abhay Bhushan in the 1980s, the FTP format was then updated to the TCP/IP version associated with servers.

FTP uses two basic channels to work. The command channel carries information about the task itself i.e. what files are to be accessed if the commands are registering so forth. The data channel then transfers files between the devices.

These FTP connections have an active and passive mode. The active mode is the most common, which allows open communication between the server and the device over both channels, with the server taking an active role in establishing the connection by approving the requests for data over the FTP session. However, you do need to bear in mind that this can be intercepted by firewalls and other similar issues, so there is also a passive mode where the server pays attention but doesn't actively maintain the connection, allowing all of the other devices to work.

What is FTP exactly used for?

Nowadays, not much. Platforms that still offer FTP downloads or support transfers largely do so out of habit and support. Even though this protocol is no longer common, the two primary modern uses of FTP are:

  • Moving large numbers of server files: IT professionals may choose the protocol when moving servers within a closed system, for organization purposes. In this case, there aren't many security concerns, and maybe the more convenient and easiest way for IT workers to move vasts amounts of data. At Snappy Host, we use FTP on a daily basis, to move and transfer files onto the webserver via an FTP client as it's quicker in some cases (depending on the size of data) we simply enter the FTP host, the FTP account, password and port to establish a TCP connection, in turn, we gain ftp access to carry out the FTP transfer.
  • Hobbies and teaching: FTP is an easy topic to introduce to newcomers to the internet protocols before going onto much more advanced topics, making it a great stepping stone.

What FTP clients are the best?

From our own personal favorites of FTP clients, FileZilla and CyberDuck are our go-to clients for FTP client software. They are fully featured and well established, and have been around for years. They come fully equipped with an easy and intuitive user interface. They make the process of transferring large files, or a large file.

The future of FTP

Unfortunately, FTP support is quickly declining due to newer replacements in favor of the SFTP protocol, which is ultimately a better choice. It's important to note that FTP has experienced a lot of success longer than any other protocol. It's sad to say goodbye to this protocol, in 2020 many modern web browsers have changed, an update to Google Chrome emerged early on in 2020 without FTP engaged automatically. Then, it could still be turned on with a command-line tweak, however, once version 82 rolled out, it was removed entirely.