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