What Website Owners Need to Know About FTP

By Megan Marshall, Tuesday, June 6, 2023
FTP Image 1
Photo by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

Websites are a necessity for all businesses and non-profits today. They offer a way to quickly and concisely convey information to your audience. Whether you are a technical kind of person or not, it is in your best interest to invest in a website. That said, there are a lot of moving pieces that go into developing an effective and professional-looking site. One thing that you will need to familiarize yourself with is File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

FTP is the backbone of file transfers between your local devices and your web hosting environment. This means that you can upload and download files without much effort required. Therefore, your website content and any resources you need access to continue to transfer seamlessly. Let’s dig into some of the basic information about FTP.

History of FTP

First described in a white paper by MIT graduate student, Abhay Bhushan, FTP aimed to enable the transfer of files over ARPANET. Back in 1971, ARPANET was the precursor to the internet as we know it. A major changing point in the development of technology, ARPANET arose from a desire to share information across computers from anywhere in the world. With Bhushan’s first specification of FTP, although largely limited, how we communicate was altered forever.

Since those days, FTP has undergone many revisions. These revisions have allowed it to stay aligned with networking standards. For instance, by the mid-1980s, FTP was introducing new management capabilities that enabled it to make and remove file directories. The evolution will only continue as we find new ways to improve the speed and security of FTP.

How FTP Works

While utilizing FTP, two communications channels are relied upon—a command channel and a data channel. The command channel controls the conversation by initiating the instruction and response. Alternately, the data channel transmits the file content. It may be the case that you, yourself, have used FTP without knowing! When you download a document from a website, for instance, you are using FTP.

Originally, FTP was developed in order for two physical computers to send and receive files. But, now, we have the amazing invention of the cloud. The cloud refers to software and services that are accessed over the internet, as opposed to locally on your computer. In whatever capacity you are using FTP, though, it could work in active or passive mode. Active mode has the server creating an immediate connection, whereas passive mode has it sending you the information needed to open a data channel.

FTP Image 2

Photo by Jopwell on Pexels

What FTP is Used For

As you know by now, FTP is all about offering an efficient way to exchange files. Instead of sending individual images to someone, thanks to FTP, you can send several all at once. Not only that, by later iterations of FTP are the reason why we can play online games, stream video content, and have cloud storage on our smartphones. Bhushan truly did open up a world of possibilities for us.

From a website owner’s standpoint, FTP is also great for its ability to back up large amounts of data. This backed-up data will be stored on a secure server. It is crucial that you have copies of your site so that, in the event of a cyberattack that wipes out your content, you still have access to everything that you need. Website administrators and webmasters use FTP, too, to transfer content from their local computers to the server. This enables both website publishing and the ever-important task of website maintenance.

Types of FTP

The most common types of FTP that you will come across as a website owner are:

  • Anonymous FTP: This is a configuration that allows users to access files without providing credentials. With Anonymous FTP, the general public can retrieve files from websites with ease.
  • Password-Protected FTP: As the name implies, Password-Protected FTP does require you to provide valid credentials. Your username and password will serve as a form of authentication to enhance security.
  • FTP Secure (FTPS): As soon as an FTP connection is established, when using FTP Secure, the SSL/TLS encryption is also established. This is especially beneficial to websites that must comply with strict security standards.
  • FTP Over Explicit SSL/TLS: With this type of FTP, you will initiate a connection in which the server is commanded to switch to SSL/TLS encryption. There is more control over the secure connection than with FTPS.
  • Secure FTP (SFTP): While not technically a type of FTP, Secure FTP does still provide a secure method for transferring files. However, it differs in that you will need an SFTP client software or an SSH client that supports its functionality.

Popular FTP Clients

There are a number of FTP clients that you can utilize, ranging from free to paid versions. They may also be available on different operating systems and platforms. But no matter their differences, their role remains the same to make it easy for you to edit files. According to WPBeginner, the best clients for WordPress are as follows:

  • WinSCP
  • Cyberduck
  • Transmit
  • Free FTP
  • FileZilla
  • WS_FTP Professional


If you are a website owner who wants to maintain control over your digital assets, understanding FTP is crucial. When you grasp the fundamentals of FTP, you ensure that your business has a seamless data transfer every time. Efficiently managing your website files will set you up for success well into the future. To gain more knowledge about FTP, be sure to check out our support FAQ.

Posted in: Security and IT, Website Usability, WWW Learning Center

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