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What is FTP, and how do I use it to transfer files?

Overview

FTP is an acronym for File Transfer Protocol. As the name suggests, FTP is used to transfer files between computers on a network. You can use FTP to exchange files between computer accounts, transfer files between an account and a desktop computer, or access online software archives. Keep in mind, however, that many FTP sites are heavily used and require several attempts before connecting.

Note: You need to use a client that supports secure FTP to transfer files to and from Indiana University's central systems. For more, see At IU, what SSH/SFTP clients are supported and where can I get them?

How to use FTP

Graphical FTP clients

Graphical FTP clients simplify file transfers by allowing you to drag and drop file icons between windows. When you open the program, enter the name of the FTP host (e.g., ftp.microsoft.com) and your username and password. If you are logging into an anonymous FTP server, you may not have to enter anything. Two common FTP programs are Cyberduck (for Mac) and WinSCP (for Windows). For more, see At IU, what SSH/SFTP clients are supported and where can I get them?

Web browser

You can use a web browser to connect to FTP addresses exactly as you would to connect to HTTP addresses. Using a web browser for FTP transfers makes it easy for you to browse large directories and read and retrieve files. Your web browser will also take care of some of the details of connecting to a site and transferring files. While this method is convenient, web browsers are often slower and less reliable and have fewer features than dedicated FTP clients.

To use your web browser to connect to an FTP site such as ftp.empire.gov, where you normally enter a URL, enter:

ftp://username@ftp.empire.gov/

Command-line FTP

Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux have built-in command-line clients; see What are some common FTP commands? For example, to start FTP, at the command-line prompt, enter:

ftp ftp.empire.gov

If you are connecting to your own account, enter your username and password. If you are connecting to an anonymous FTP site, for your username, enter anonymous . For your password, enter your email address.

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Last modified on November 18, 2013.

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