FTP: What is It and Why Does It Matter To Me?

By Phillip Smith, Friday, January 30, 2015
FTP for beginners

If you’re seasoned and involved with the web hosting world you have heard the acronym FTP way too many times. For those of you who are beginning your journey into creating your own website, this blog will give you the basics of what FTP is as well as its importance to website development.

What is FTP?

File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, was first conceived by Abhay Bhushan in 1971, but FTP, as we know it now, wasn’t fully developed until 1997. FTP provides a means of being able to transfer files from one computer to the next. In this case, it allows web developers to be able to send their website templates and content from their work computer to the hosting server that contains their website.

FTP is a very useful and handy tool for web developers to use in order to create a functioning website. It is their main route to the FTP server that stores all the nuts and bolts of a website. In technical terms, FTP creates a TCP control connection from a random unprivileged port N to the FTP server command port 21. Now in normal everyday people terms, the FTP client (program) that you use creates a direct line to the FTP server with the credentials you input into the client. This allows you to access and manipulate files on that server at any given time. It works going both directions as well. You can send files to the webserver and you can also pull files from the server itself.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but what does it mean?

Think about FTP like it’s a hyper-fast version of snail mail. Person A wants to send a package to person B who is located in a different city. Person A (your computer) writes down person B’s address (the server’s IP address) alongside their return address (username and password). If both addresses are valid, then the post office (FTP Client) will be able to send the package to the receiving end. However, if one or both of the addresses are invalid, the post office will be unable to deliver the package. FTP requires a valid destination (the domain address) and the proper credentials (username and password) to be able to make that connection and send the files to be stored on that server.

In the ’90s when the internet was a sparkling new thing, doing an FTP connection was more difficult due to the fact that technology wasn’t too advanced back then. Most computer users had to manually type in commands via a DOS prompt or a Terminal on their machine. However, thanks to modern-day technology we can now use programs to do services like FTP without having to memorize a plethora of commands.

That makes sense, but can’t I just depend on my hired web developer to take care of all that stuff?

Short answer: Yes. Any professional web developer knows how to use FTP. But remember even the most advanced website developers had to start somewhere, and they had to learn the ropes of FTP, too. When you get a better understanding of what happens in the background, you’ll be able to take greater command of your website. Knowledge is the ultimate power when it comes to website development as well as design. Having even base knowledge of how to do FTP can help eliminate some basic issues.

One issue that comes to mind is when you have to depend on another person to help you move simple files from one folder to another. We get requests for this type of thing all the time, and while we’re happy to help it’s always nice to have options. Rather than having to wait for your web developer to get back to you and begin the process, you can mosey on in and easily do it yourself.

Ok, ok, you’ve won me over. What are the basics?

To start off you need an FTP client that is compatible with your operating system. If you’re not well versed in technology I would recommend using Filezilla to start. It is user-friendly, compatible with all three major operating systems, and has a substantial wiki database to reference if you have questions regarding program functions.

All FTP clients require three key pieces of information: your domain name (or its IP Address), a username, and a password. When creating a username and password to access your server via FTP, make sure your password strength is high. For example, a password like “boatcucumberwire” can be stronger if you mix in case-sensitive letters, numbers, and symbols. Rather than using three plain text words, you can use b04tCucUMb34W!r3. It may seem cumbersome to create such a complicated password, but you want to get used to the idea of security. If a ragamuffin gains access to your FTP server they have free reign over your website and can deface it, have it send sensitive information to spammers, or even break the website entirely.

With Filezilla, it’s simple to start a connection. Type in your information in the proper sections near the top of the program and hit “Quick Connect.” After a few moments, the program will show you if you gained access or not. If access was granted you have made your first successful FTP connection! You are now able to select files to send to your server, or you can pull files from the server, modify them as you see fit, and send them back to be stored and used. You can also create folders called directories or sub-directories that can store different types of scripts and/or functions for the website.

That’s all there is to it when it comes to basic FTP functionality! Once you get more involved with web design and web development, you’ll be able to do more complicated actions regarding FTP, such as scripts or functions as I mentioned above.

Below I will provide some links that will give you a deeper insight as to how FTP works and what other methods you can use to access your FTP server. Don’t limit yourself just to these websites though. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to web development and web design. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from user forums as well. The internet is a wide and vast library of knowledge. Use it to the best of your abilities and you will be able to dance your way around your website in no time.

You can find more information about using features with your web hosting account on our tech support FAQ. The cPanel documentation includes instructions on how to create an FTP account.

Posted in: Tech Support, Web Hosting, Web Site Maintenance, WWW Learning Center

2 responses to “FTP: What is It and Why Does It Matter To Me?”

  1. John Apretto says:

    FTP works great only if there is some expert to support it. Binfer is a more secure alternative. See FTP alternative.

    • Jacqueline Sinex says:

      Whatever floats your boat! I am not a binfer user, but some people like it. There are plenty of ways to use FTP simply and securely.