What Is File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and What Is It Used For?

FTP dates back to the early days of the Internet. All of us use FTP, though not realizing it. For example, when downloading files. The technology is very old but is still successfully used to transfer files on the Internet. In this article, we will explain in detail everything about this protocol, how it works, and why it is used.

What is FTP?

File Transfer Protocol is an access protocol designed for remote file transfer. In simple words, it allows users to view the contents of folders on a remote server. FTP can be used to upload video and audio, documents, software, etc. The technology is used to organise storage of internal company documents, e.g. archive scans of documents. FTP also allows for uploading files to a server for anyone to download.
Thus the purpose of the protocol is to transfer, copy or send files from a remote computer to a local one, and vice versa. In addition, you can work with files directly on the remote PC. For example, you can share files or parts of files with your developer, and they are able to rename them, delete them, or create directories.

How FTP Works?

FTP is implemented on the principle of client-server architecture. Using various types of network connections, it allows files and commands to be transferred between the host and the client.
The FTP can also be configured for either unsupervised or secured access with authentication, which is usually done through direct transmission of the username and password. However, in some cases, it may use encryption for anonymization when configured in advance.

 Therefore, there are two components – an FTP server and an FTP client.
  • Server. A software application installed on any PC or workstation. It controls access to data by login and password, ensures the quality of information transfer and eliminates errors, and controls connection in passive mode.
  • Client. This is a program installed on the device. It is used to send a request to a server or receive a response from it, browse file directories, and download or upload data.
FTP utilizes two connections between the client and the server: the first is a control connection through which commands are sent. Commands are transmitted as text (e.g. AUTH, DELE, RETR, STOR, and so on). They allow the client to retrieve a list of files on the server, upload, download, or delete a file, create a subdirectory, etc.

A second separate connection is used for file transfers. This provides control over the transmission of large files and even interrupts it with a special command sent in the control connection.
There are two types of FTP data transfer modes: active and passive. For most users, it is recommended to use the passive mode. Popular FTP clients know how to select the optimal connection mode on their own.
An FTP session starts with the user authentication procedure. After a successful password check, the user can access files on the remote server. It is possible to set up password-free authentication and free access to files for anyone who joins via FTP, and the client uses a special "anonymous" login that does not require a password as a username.
Most FTP servers support limiting user access to a specific folder (so-called chroot). This provides isolation of users and their files.

What is the File Transfer Protocol used for?

It is one of many different protocols for communicating on computer networks. HTTP, SMTP, and IMAP are among other such protocols. Why use exactly FTP  then?
First, the FTP connection does not require a full-fledged web interface. Also, it has built-in authorization and access rights settings, which you would have to specify separately in the web interface. In addition, with the FTP protocol, a user can freely control access rights.
In other words, FTP is a tool that works behind the scenes, transmitting data every second from servers to millions of clients. Today it is an important part of internet infrastructure. Without it we would not be able to enjoy many of the modern features of the Internet from sharing files to online gaming.

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author: Jennifer
published: 12/26/2022
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