How Do I Use FTP? - How To Upload

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As more of us own and operate our own websites, maybe through free web hosting and one of the most frequent questions amongst new webmasters is how do I use FTP? This usually follows the related question of what is FTP?

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol; a protocol is like a rulebook, in this case it is the rules that computers use when transferring files to each other, and it is needed when you upload any files to your website so that visitors can view it okay, and stands as an important aspect of HTML, which is the language of the web.

Although you can use a web browser for downloading with FTP, don't think; I won't need anything else as this is the only thing you can do; so for more complicated and fully interactive stuff, you will need a proper FTP program, and there are very many available; some for free, others ranging in price that may give you a free trial period of around thirty days.

So you just log in with your program to the server, type in your user name and password, and then you can rummage around to exchange files and see what's what in the directory; copy and view, rename and delete files and so-on. Your program should take care of the necessary commands but viewing the log to see what was going on is still a useful way to learn more.

Do think about these things when making your client (program) choice:

  • An interface that is simple to use, and makes the local (your pc) and remote (server where you're connected too) clear.
  • Allows anonymous FTP (for connecting to open public servers easily).
  • Fully logs your user sessions.
  • Warns you when ASCII transfer is necessary.

Other things like:

  • Allowing for multiple logins on different servers, choosing between passive and active FTP and setting permissions for server-side applications will also be necessary as you get more used to things.

Do Binary? Or Should I Use ASCII?

How these latter points are involved is beyond the remit here, but a common problem that has webmasters asking How did I do that wrong? is file corruption during transfer, and this is mostly down to the difference between Binary and ASCII. As these different transfer modes can cause confusion, let's check them out simply.

ASCII (aka TEXT or TEXT DOS) is an abbreviation of American Standard Code Information Interchange and is basically just text, though a computer only sees numbers and it uses these to make up the text.

Binary (aka All Files and Raw Data) are also a system of numbers, but they differ in how they are composed and utilized and a computer can use them for more complicated things like forming images for example.

Nowadays most programs will know what is best for the situation, but the human factor can still make accidental alterations which will be the cause of trouble. ASCII is quicker for example, but you can't do as much with it; which is why the default is always binary.

How And When

ASCII mode is good for HTML and Text files and CGI, but not for images, applications and file formats like .doc and .xls and all the others, plus packets of .zip for example, which must transferred (both downloading and uploading) as binary - aka raw data and all files - or they will be corrupted and not work! This is because both instruction as well as order is involved with these and computers need binary mode to know how to use them and in what shape they take.

So the question now is should I forget about ASCII and just use binary?  The answer is no - although you can send any other ASCII files in binary mode, the exception are CGI scripts, which is incompatible with this mode and must be ASCII.

So after you've made up your mind of how to choose a affordable web hosting company you can have some fun learning more about ways to help your site grow and flourish.


Publication Date: Thursday 14th October, 2004
Author: Matt Jacks View profile

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