File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

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File Transfer Protocol is used to transfer files from one host to another host over a TCP-based network, such as the Internet. FTP works in the same way as HTTP for transferring Web pages from a server to a user's browser and SMTP for transferring electronic mail across the internet. Like these technologies, FTP uses the internet's TCP/IP protocols to enable data transfer.


In order to create a "user-friendly" experience, the FTP was created to enable file transfers on April 16, 1971. Originally, FTP was published as a "Request for Comments" and, through the years, has had new standards added in order to accommodate new commands. RFC 959, published in October of 1985, is still the set standards in use today.


According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international community devoted to the development of Web standards, the objectives of FTP are:
  1. to promote file sharing (computer programs and other data)
  2. to encourage indirect or implicit use of remote computers
  3. to shield a user from variations in file storage systems among hosts
  4. to transfer data reliably and efficiently

Although it is possible for users to access FTP directly from command line applications (see Command line FTP below), FTP is designed for use by programs.

FTP may be accessed the following ways:

  • Graphical FTP Clients allow the user to "drag and drop" file icons between windows
  • Browser-based FTP: A user can connect to an FTP address via a web browser's address bar by entering the name of the FTP host
  • Command line FTP: Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems have built-in command line FTP clients. Each operating system has a set of commands to start and access FTP

Application Clients:

Graphical FTP Clients

  • FileZilla "FileZilla is free and cross-platform FTP software. Binaries are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. It supports FTP, SFTP, and FTPS."
  • Cyberduck is a free, open-source FTP client for Mac OS X
  • WinSCP , (Windows Secure Copy) , is a free, open-source FTP client. Supporting both SFTP and SCP protocols. its well known for being lightweight while still supporting advanced features.
  • Transmit $30, FTP client for Mac OS X. It has many extra features such as File Syncing as well as being a FTP client.

Browser-based FTP

  • FireFTP is a Free Firefox extension that integrates a powerful FTP client directly into our Firefox browser.

2013 Best FTP Software

Active vs. Passive FTP's

Among the two nodes, active is the older one. It works by a user connecting to a server using a FTP client, and sending the files to the server. The server then sends a connection back to the client using something called a port, and the files can be sent back and forth via this method.

Passive FTP's work in a different way. In passive mode, the user still puts in a command channel connection to the server. However, instead of using a port to connect to the client, the server uses something called a PASV command, which sends a request for a server port connection in order to receive the files.

Related Links

File Transfer Protocol (FTP), W3C,
What is FTP? A Word Definition from the Webopedia Computer Dictionary
File Transfer Protocol - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"What is FTP and how do I use it to transfer files?" Indiana University, University Information Technology Services
"What is FTP," Youtube, technoblogical