When it comes to the internet, websites, and website security, you may have already realised that there is no shortage of terminology. Much of this terminology seems to have been created by someone who was on a mission to use as many long words and letters as possible. This has led to many of them being abbreviated, and one of those abbreviations is FTP.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and here we are going to explain what it is and why it is used. Trying to explain FTP is made more difficult because it can be defined in three different ways. First, it is a ‘method’ of transferring files, next it is the ‘software’ or ‘client’ which does the sending and receiving, and to add even more to the mix, FTP is also used as an ‘action’ in the sense that someone may be asked to FTP files to a server.
How FTP Works
For FTP to take place, there have to be two parties to it, in the same sense that a verbal conversation cannot take place unless two people are involved. With FTP, the two parties are the sender and the receiver. The sender, using FTP software, will send files to the receiver. The receiver can either be another person simply working on a PC, or it could be a server, with an example being a hosting server receiving the files required to publish a website online.
When FTP takes place there will often be a security element whereas to access the FTP server both parties need to enter credentials, which usually includes a password. In some scenarios that security is not present, and this is known as anonymous FTP. This tends to be used to give access to files where a login using ‘guest’ is often the norm. Educational organisations are prime users of anonymous FTP where students need to access files for their course work.
For FTP to be used, there are normally two district communication channels, namely the command channel and the data channel. The command channel is what initiates both the instruction needed for FTP to start and the response to it. The data channel is what sends the files.
In practice, one party will use FTP software to request access to the server to either send or to receive files to or from it. Once the server establishes the person’s credentials are correct it will grant the access and the transfer can begin. This stage of the process is known as an active connection.
Main Uses Of FTP
There are two main reasons why FTP is used. The first is to send files to a server, and the primary reason this is done is to launch a website. Websites are created using files that include coding, images, and content and for the website to be seen by others, it needs to be hosted. Using FTP, all the necessary files are sent to the hosting company’s servers where they remain until they are either updated or removed by the website owner.
The second reason FTP is used is to transfer files between people, companies, and organisations and also within companies and organisations internally, such as between different departments. This brings us to a problem that exists with FTP and that is its vulnerability. FTP is not an encrypted system and thus is open to the possibility of cyber-attack or hacking.
FTPS and SFTP
FTP was created at a time where hacking was not the security issue it has become today, thus it is somewhat vulnerable. However, newer forms of FTP, which do encrypt files are now becoming the norm. In particular File Transfer Protocol Secure (FTPS) which utilises Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) which goes even further, using the latest enhanced security called Security Secure Socket Shell (SSH).
Both FTPS and SFTP both provide all the convenience and utility of FTP but also offer a channel for file transfer that is reliable, encrypted, and secure.