File Transfer Protocol is one of the most enduring methods of data transfer in existence. It’s also a fairly uncomplicated protocol, largely unchanged since it was developed almost half a century ago. However, the question of what is FTP has a much broader answer nowadays.
So what is FTP?
In essence, FTP enables two computers to communicate safely while transferring data between each other. It represents an efficient method of exchanging large volumes of information across a local area network (or the internet), offering different levels of access to individual users. It’s quick, simple, robust and popular. Best of all, FTP doesn’t require specialist software from the client side. It’s compatible with conventional web browsers, simply by typing ftp instead of http in the address bar.
The technical process involved in a typical FTP exchange goes like this:
- A client initiates a connection with a server, usually requesting access to a file or folder.
- The client logs on, using credentials like a username and password.
- The client and server confirm each other’s identity and begin a secure conversation.
- The file is distributed from server to client, resuming after any interruptions.
What is FTP used for?
FTP was originally designed to transfer bulky files in an age where connections were unstable, resuming progress after any disconnection. However, it’s now commonly used for compressed files like MP3s. Web hosting services tend to support FTP as a method of uploading website content, and students often use it to download course material or upload assignments to academic intranets. FTP is commonly used for downloading large executable files like a web browser, and many software packages (including Windows and Dreamweaver) have it integrated as standard.
What is FTP’s main downside?
In truth, there are several limitations worth acknowledging:
- Although FTP is easy to use as a client, the host faces various setup challenges.
- Data isn’t automatically encrypted unless coupled with a secure protocol like FTPS.
- The lack of reporting data makes tracking FTP activity difficult.
- Contemporary file sharing platforms like WeTransfer are easier to use for beginners.
Even so, FTP offers many benefits, especially when a security layer is incorporated to create SFTP. This adds encryption and data authenticity checks, alongside two-factor authentication where needed. It also ensures compliance with state or corporate data security requirements around the world.