What is FTP and why you need it for your blog
File Transfer Protocol, better known as FTP is a communications standard that allows you to move files to/from a server on the internet. FTP is commonly used to install software to a web server or to copy files up to a web server to make them available on a web-site.
Thanks to many different software programs available, FTP is really rather easy these days. Back in the day, you had to use FTP from a command line. While not terribly complex it did require knowing the syntax along with some other cryptic information. While those tools are still available, there are many easier to use tools available. Using these programs, transferring files to and from your server is as easy as moving files from one folder to another on your home computer.
FTP programs, more commonly called FTP clients are a dime a dozen. There are literally hundreds of them out there, all offering different features and capabilities. I’m going to mention a few but really just focus on one:
- FileZilla – This is by far the most popular choice and frankly probably one of the best as well. The great thing about FileZilla is that it’s free. I’m all about free. Version are available for Windows, Max OS X, and Linux
- FireFTP – FireFTP is an FTP client that runs within FireFox. If you aren’t using Firefox, you should be….go download it right now! Many of the tools I’ll be highlighting here on Side Income Blogging will run within Firefox.
- WinSCP – A Windows only client that supports both standard FTP and Secure FTP.
- Transmit (Mac OS X Only) – Transmit is an awesome FTP program built by my favorite Mac Software shop Panic. Transmit has a ton of really slick features.
My preference and the FTP client I use everyday? FireFTP. I do a lot of custom development and most of my transferring of files is supported by the development tool I use call Coda. When I’m not in Coda I’m generally in Firefox doing something on the web. I’m not particularly fond of switching applications, so I’d rather just run my FTP client inside of Firefox. FireFTP does exactly what I need, and it’s free. Again, I’m all about free.
How to transfer files using FireFTP
As I mentioned, transferring files using FireFTP is really simple. The following sections will walk you through installing it, configuring it and show you how to transfer files.
Installation of FireFTP is easy:
- First, if you don’t have Firefox, download and install it. If you’ve never used it before, just give it a try, I promise you’ll love it. It’s one of my missions in life to convert everyone from Internet Explorer (ok, not really but Firefox is still great).
- Next, visit the FireFTP site and click on the Add to Firefox link. A window will slide down. Press the Install Now button and Firefox will install FireFTP for you. Depending on your Firefox and computer settings, you might need to restart FireFox.
- Once installed, you now have a new menu option on the main FireFox Tools menu named FireFTP.
Run FireFTP and create a new connection
Now, Let’s run FireFTP and get it configured. To start FireFTP, click on Tools, FireFTP. FireFTP will load in a new Tab. Your screen should look similar to this (click on the image for a larger version):
On the left is a file browser for your local hard drive. The blank area on the right is the file browser for the server you’ll be connected to. At the bottom is a log window that will show you information about your activities. In order to connect to a server, you’ll need to create a New Account. Do this by performing the following steps:
- Click on the drop down box in the top left corner of FireFTP that says Create an Account. A pop up window will appear named the Account Manager. This is where you will enter your new account information. FireFTP keeps your account information for your various FTP connections so that you don’t have to re-enter them each time.
- At this point, you’ll need your hosts FTP information. This would have been provided to you by the hosting company in the initial welcome email they provided. If you cannot find this information, just contact your hosting company’s support area and they’ll provide it for you.
- By default, the cursor is located in the Host field. This is where you will enter the hostname for the ftp server you want to connect to. For your blog or website, this is generally your domain with an FTP on the front. For example: ftp.myblogname.com.
- Notice that the Account Name field is auto-populated with the hostname your typed. If you’re ok with this leave it as is. Personally I like to use names that are a little more friendly. To do this just place the cursor into the Account Name field and key in whatever name you would like.
- Next we can assign a category. If you are only going to have a handful of ftp accounts, you can just leave this field blank; however if you’re like me and have a ton, I’d suggest assigning your connection to a category. This is done by just choosing a previously entered category name or by keying a new one in the Category field. My Categories are: My Sites, Client Sites, and Misc.
- Now place your cursor in the login field. Enter the ftp login id.
- Move to the password field and enter your ftp password field.
- Press the OK button and your New Account is added!
Note that in the connection drop-down where it previously said Create an Account, it now has the name of the FTP server we just entered.
Transferring files using FTP
Now that we have an account created, it’s time to connect to the server and transfer some files!
- In the connection drop down in the top left corner, choose the account you want to connect to. If you only have one, it will be listed by default.
- Just to the right of the drop down, press the Connect button. In the bottom window, you’ll see information FireFTP provides as it’s connecting to your server. If successful, the right side window will show the file structure for the server you connected to. If you get a pop-up asking for your login ID and password, than the information you provided for the server name, login id or password when you created the connection is incorrect. Use the Edit option to make changes.
- In the left hand window (your computer) navigate to the directory where the file exists you want to upload (source). In the right hand window, navigate to the directory where you want to place the file (destination). Make sure the source and destination directories are highlighted.
- Select (highlight) the file on your computer in the left hand pane.
- To copy a file to the server, click the green arrow your local machine window and your server window that’s pointing to the right. To copy a file from the server to your local machine, click the arrow pointing to the left. Yep, it’s that easy.
That’s it, you just transferred a file using FTP! To move whole directories, instead of highlighting a file highlight a directory and follow the same process, the directory and all of it’s contents will be automatically transferred.
Why do you need FTP?
FTP is useful for number of reasons:
- If you have a text editor installed on your computer, like Notepad++ on Windows or the default text editor that comes with a Mac when you right click on a file on your server you can edit that file and when you save it, FireFTP will save it back to the server. This is REALLY convenient for editing theme files, robots.txt files or your wp-config.php file.
- Use it to do a manual install of WordPress.
- Upload downloadable content to your website.
- Backup files.