What Is an FTP Site?

By Ann Deiterich

The growing need to share all sorts of files across the Internet, as well as the growing need for online security, has led to the rise in use of FTP sites. FTP sites can handle large files in a secure fashion, and work better than email in these instances. You may even want to consider an FTP site for yourself or your company.

What is an FTP Site?

An FTP site is generally a server (or servers) on the Internet, or an in-house network for exchanging files. Any type of file can be uploaded to it, stored and later downloaded from it. FTP is an acronym for file transfer protocol. As with many phrases used in conjunction with the web, the FTP abbreviation is taking on multiple meanings. It's not uncommon to hear or read "FTP" meaning the site itself. "Send it to the FTP." Additionally, it's often used as a verb: "FTP it to me."

Why Use an FTP Site?

The use of FTP sites has grown right along with files sizes and the growing need for security. Files can be exchanged as email attachments; however, size and security may cause problems with the transfer from one computer to another. Many email providers limit the size of email attachments. Providers' typical allowances for attachments range from 10MB to 20MB, although some are higher or lower. Regardless of attachment restrictions and allowances, it's important to remember that files traveling over the Internet via email are unencrypted and therefore, not secured. It's unwise to email any sort of sensitive or confidential data.

How Do I Download a File?

If you've ever downloaded something from a website (music files, e-books, reports or movies), chances are good that file was transferred to your computer via an FTP site without you ever knowing it. The computer from which you downloaded a file can be next door, or halfway around the world. The time it takes to download a file depends on the file size and your Internet connection. Internet connections are rated in terms of bandwidth. Think of it as a pipe: The larger the diameter of the pipe (i.e. more bandwidth), the faster data can flow into your computer.

How Do I Upload a File?

With private FTP sites, you generally need permission to upload files to it. An example of this type of FTP site might be owned by a printer to whom you send files for output. Many photo processing centers also take images for output via FTP site uploads. The owner or creator of the site determines who may upload and which, if any, files may be viewed publicly. The owner of the site may supply you with a unique User ID and password. Once on the FTP site, you may be able to see other files that have been uploaded, but will not be able to open or download them. Depending on the restrictions, you might only see the files you've sent.

Anonymous FTP Sites

If a site owner allows public access, sometimes the User ID will be set as "anonymous," and your email address will act as the password. Some anonymous FTP sites work completely behind the scenes, and you will never be prompted to enter that sort of information. Often, when you're downloading files you're actually logged in anonymously without ever knowing it.

FTP Software

Called an FTP Client, it's software that's designed to transfer files back and forth between computers. Normally, this software depicts two panes: one representing your computer, and the other representing the FTP site. Most operate by dragging and dropping files from one panel to the other, thus, transferring them between computers.

Having an FTP Site

In order to establish an FTP site for yourself or your company, you will need a computer to handle the job, ideally one that is dedicated for this function only. Additionally, you will need a constant Internet connection, an IP address and FTP software. There are a number of different software packages from which you can choose.There are now a number of web-based services that provide you with an FTP site to receive files without having to have a dedicated server and constant connection to the Internet. Many can even be customized with your company logo and information.