How to use FTP to transfer files

The other day I mentioned in passing that I’d needed to transfer some files to my web server using FTP (File Transfer Protocol), so thought I’d elaborate on that a bit. Now, modern blogging platforms like WordPress have drastically reduced the need to use FTP for day-to-day tasks like posting articles and such, but if you run your own website or blog, you will find that you need to use it at some point for things like:

  • Retrieving backups
  • Installing plugins
  • Redirecting URLs

What is FTP?

Wikipedia defines FTP as

…a network protocol used to transfer data from one computer to another through a network, such as the Internet.

It all sounds a bit scary and technical (which no doubt it is behind the scenes), but luckily we don’t have to bother with all that, as there are tools that shield us from the complexities.

My favourite is one called FileZilla, for a number of reasons:

  • It’s free and open-source
  • It’s cross-platform (meaning it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux)
  • It’s easy to use

I’m going to assume for the rest of this article that you’re using FileZilla, although a lot of the principles apply equally to other FTP software.

What do I need?

Apart from FTP software, you also need to have FTP access to the web server where your site resides. Most web hosting packages provide this as default, but if you’re not sure you should check with your hosting provider. They need to provide you with a username and password you can use to gain access to your files on the web server via FTP (normally this is the same username and password you use for your cPanel).

Let’s get started

Without further ado, let’s get stuck in. The steps we need to follow are:

  1. Configure a connection
  2. Connect to the server
  3. Transfer file(s)
  4. Disconnect from the server

Step 1: Configure a connection

Launch FileZilla, then select File > Site Manager from the menu. This opens up the Site Manager dialog which is where you configure connection parameters for your web server.

Now do the following:

  1. Press the New Site button.
  2. Type in a name for the connection (I normally use the name of the website).
  3. Enter the Host as your domain name (eg
  4. For the Logontype, change Anonymous to Normal.
  5. In the User field, enter the username supplied to you by your web host.
  6. In the Password field, enter the password supplied to you by your web host.
  7. Finally click OK to save the configuration settings.

Step 2: Connect to the server

To establish a connection to your web server, open the Site Manager dialog again, select the connection you configured in step 1, and click the Connect button. If all is well you should see some log messages scrolling by in the message log panel, and you will be connected to your web server.

Step 3: Transfer file(s)

The main FileZilla user interface is divided into a number of panes:

From top to bottom these are:

  • Message Log pane
  • Directory Tree pane, divided in two, representing respectively the local and remote folder s
  • Folder Contents pane, also divided in two
  • Transfer Queue pane

The main ones of interest are the local and remote Directory Trees and Folder Contents. Transferring a file from one to the other is as simple as double-clicking it. So to upload to the server (ie: transfer from left to right), double-click the file in the left pane, or right-click it and select Upload. Conversely, to download something from the server to your local machine, double-click the file in the right pane, or right-click it and select Download. Or you can drag items from one side to the other.

You can also create and delete files and folders, transfer entire folders or groups of files, etc. Basically the same functionality you would expect to find in any file manager.

Step 4: Disconnect from the server

Once you’re finished, and all transfers have completed (check the Transfer Queue to be sure), you can disconnect from the remote server by selecting the Server > Disconnect option from the menu. Most servers will also terminate the connection automatically after a period of inactivity.

I hope that’s helped dispel any aura of difficulty about FTP. Basically, it’s as easy as moving files around your computer’s hard disk drive!

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16 Responses to “How to use FTP to transfer files”

  1. Gravatar of Karen M 1 Karen M

    Hi Rod. Here’s a punter who’s very pleased you’ve started this blog. I’m still new to it all and it drives me mad when terms like FTP are thrown into guidelines that are meant to be helpful, without any definition. You do a very good idiot’s guide, and this idiot’s looking forward to more. Cheers!

  2. Gravatar of Rodney Smith 2 Rodney Smith

    Thanks Karen, you’re too kind.

  3. Gravatar of Synergy Informatics 3 Synergy Informatics


    Nice article tutorial.

    Can I use it on our site (blog have been recently started..)

    Our client will love such articles…

    We’ll don’t mind giving credit & link back to your site.

    Thanks & Regards

    Synergy Informatics, Surat

  4. Gravatar of Rodney Smith 4 Rodney Smith

    Synergy: thanks for asking, but I don’t allow any of my articles to be republished. Feel free to quote a short exerpt though with a link back to the full article if you want :-)

  5. Gravatar of Earth 4 Energy 5 Earth 4 Energy

    I still cannot quite figure out how to ‘activate’ a theme once I have transferred it onto my server?

  6. Gravatar of Synergy Informatics 6 Synergy Informatics

    Hi Earth 4 energy,

    Please note you will have to upload the theme-folder to /blog/wp-content/themes folder, then only it will be listed in admin panel for wordpress.

    Make sure that theme folder has the theme files in it, and not to any other folders. Then only WordPress read it, else, it will not be listed in wp-admin.

    After uploading it, go to wp-admin > Design > Themes and it will show you all the themes you uploaded in above folder.

    Now just click on a theme you want to use, it will show you preview, and then find, “Activate theme” in the same preview window.. clicking this will activate selected theme for wp.

    Synergy Informatics
    A professional Web Design & Web Hosting Company based in Surat, India.

  7. Gravatar of Leonardo Medina 7 Leonardo Medina

    I am very capable of using a filezilla or cuteftp but here is one thing which confused me. How to change permission on a file in windows server? I am pretty confused with that because we can change permissions in a Linux based hosting very easily.

  8. Gravatar of Rodney Smith 8 Rodney Smith

    Leonardo: I haven’t used a Windows web server before, but you might find the answer to your question in this article about setting permissions.

  9. Gravatar of File Lock 9 File Lock

    I prefer FireFTP Firefox addon to FileZilla because FireFTP is more lightweight and easy to use.

  10. Gravatar of Trey 10 Trey

    I was looking for how to set permissions on our windows ftp site but unfortunately the link Rodney posted no longer works. We need to set up a secure folder for clients on our ftp site. Although I think there may be a better solution, such as described here:

  11. Gravatar of Allan | nike dunks 11 Allan | nike dunks

    I have heard a lot about Fireftp but I have been using Filezilla since 6 months. I think it is not heavy and it is the coolest ftp application I have ever used. In past, I have used Cuteftp but that is not a free application but it is very efficient.

  12. Gravatar of intan 12 intan

    Connection established, waiting for welcome message…
    Response: 220 ProFTPD 1.3.1 Server ready.
    Command: USER
    Response: 331 Password required for
    Command: PASS *******
    Response: 530 Login incorrect.
    Error: Could not connect to server


  13. Gravatar of Rodney Smith 13 Rodney Smith

    intan: sounds like either your username or password are incorrect – is your username really the full email address, or just balizstudio? And remember that usernames and passwords are case-sensitive. I suggest you contact your web host to make sure you’ve got the right username and password. You could also try Googling “ftp error 530″ – you’ll get loads of info.

  14. Gravatar of Allen – cheap china phones 14 Allen – cheap china phones

    I have been using Firezilla almost since an year and I am very satisfied. One thing which always confuse me, active and passive mode, what is it actually and how it can be beneficial?

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