FTP Programs – What are they and how are they used?

One of the most often used tools when one is setting up their own website is an “FTP Program”, and although this tool is not exclusive to the field of web design, it is certainly something a web designer needs to be well familiar with.

Definition
 
FTP – this stands for File Transfer Protocol.  “File Transfer” is pretty straightforward – we’re talking about transferring files from one computer to another via the internet (or via a private network, like a large company might have).  And “protocol” is “a special set of rules that define how something is done.”  So there are some rules and procedures that a computer needs to follow in order to transfer a file from computer A through the internet to computer B.  And an FTP Program is a program that is designed for the purpose of allowing people to do this relatively easily.
 
Why Should I Use One?
 
Well if you’re making a website, it’s the only way to get your files on the server.  But aside from that, let’s just say you need to send a BIG file or a lot of files to someone, and you’d rather not do the snail-mail thing, and the files may be too big or cumbersome to try to transmit via email.  Well, that’s where an FTP program comes in.
 
Client or Server?
 
If you poke around with FTP programs a bit you will likely run into the terms “client” and “server”.  The thing to remember is that they represent the two ends of the communication between the computers.  A “client” requests to connect in to a server because the client wants to either drop some files off, or pick some up.  The server is like the file “depot”, where other computers (clients) connect up and either pick up or drop off files.  The thing to know about this is that some FTP programs are client FTP programs and some are server FTP programs, and some can do both.  The one you would need for the purposes of this discussion is a CLIENT FTP PROGRAM.
 
Where Do I Find One Of These FTP Programs?
 
There are many programs out there that can be used, some have a cost and some not.  But the one I use and recommend is a free one called “Filezilla”.  You can get it by going to http://filezilla-project.org/ and then click the button labeled “Download Filezilla Client”.  Then choose the appropriate version of the program for your computer’s operating system, and get it installed.
 
How Do I Use It?
 
Pretty simple really.  With Filezilla, open the program and at the top you’ll see three fields that you’ll need to have the info for to connect:  1) Host, 2)Username, 3) Password (there is a fourth one called “port” but this can usually be left alone.  The majority of the screen will be split in two halves, left and right.  The left says “local site”, which means YOUR COMPUTER, and the right side says “Remote site”, which means THE SERVER you are about to connect to.  When you first open the program, the left side should show some folder on your hard drive, and the right should be empty.
 
As far as the HOST, if you are trying to connect to a website called www.mywebsite.com, the host would typically be ftp.mywebsite.com .  There are circumstances when this may not work and you might need to use another host name, or even a specific IP address instead of a domain name.  But the above is the usual situation.  And as far as the Username and Password, you would usually either set these up yourself in your hosting provider’s control panel (if it’s your own website), or get them from whoever is administering the website FTP server you are trying to access.
 
After you plug the right info into those fields in Filezilla, you click “Quickconnect”.  You’ll see a bunch of mostly gibberish-looking text scrolling at the top of the window for a few seconds, and then you will suddenly see files appearing on the right side of the screen.  Double click the folders to get where you want.
 
If you were planning to upload some photos from your computer to the server, you would navigate to the folder you want where you have those pictures on the left hand side (your computer) and then navigate on the right hand side (the server) to the folder you’ll want to drop those pictures into.  Then just drag from left to right and wait while at the bottom of the screen a queue of those files uploads.  Reverse the action to download a file to your computer.  To transfer just one file, you can simply double click on it, but to transfer more than one file, or an entire folder, you’ll have to drag and drop.

OK, so those are the basic basics of FTP programs.  Like all technology, there is a lot more you could know, but even knowing just the above will cover probably 95% or more of your FTP transfer needs.