What is FTP?

Posted on: September 9th, 2022
By: Tadeo Lemus

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a shared network protocol that transfers files from one host to another over a TCP-based network, such as the internet. It is based on a client-server architecture and uses separate data and control connections between the client and server applications. 

As a website developer, FTP can help you make changes to a website conveniently and securely, even if you transfer many files.

Continue reading for a deep dive into this protocol, and learn everything you need to know about FTP.

What is FTP all about

FTP is short for File Transfer Protocol. It is a file transfer protocol that connects two computers to communicate. One computer acts as the server, while the other acts as the client. The server stores all the files to be transferred while the client initiates the transfer and downloads the files. It is an application layer system that relies on the reliable TCP transport layer protocol.

FTP was developed in the early 1970s by Abhay Bhushan while working on the ARPANET project. Bhushan aimed to create a standard file transfer protocol that would be simple and efficient. The first implementations of FTP were based on Bhushan’s RFC 114, published in 1971.

FTP has been widely used ever since and has become an essential tool for transferring files on the internet. While it has been superseded by newer protocols such as SFTP and FTPS in many situations, it remains the best choice due to its convenience and broad compatibility.

What is FTP mainly used for? 

FTP is used primarily to download files from remote servers, upload local files to remote servers, or both. It is also used to access online software archives, site backups, and other collections of files.

Backup. FTP can be used to create backups of local files on a remote server. This can provide extra protection for important data in case of system failure or other data loss events.

Replication. FTP is used to replicate files between servers or between a server and multiple clients. This is often distributed to many systems’ software updates or other content.

Software Distribution. Many software applications are available for download via FTP. It includes both commercial and open-source software.

Access and data loading.  FTP is also widely used to access shared web hosting and cloud services as a mechanism to load data onto a remote system.

What was used before FTP, and how long did it take? 

Before FTP, a few ad-hoc methods existed for transferring files between computers. These included email attachments (which could only transfer small files), physical media (such as floppy disks), and direct connections between computers (using serial cables).

This was often a tedious and slow process, as each file had to be individually copied onto the destination machine. In addition, there was always the risk of data loss if the storage media was damaged in transit. FTP changed all that by allowing users to quickly and easily transfer files over the internet.  

How does FTP Work?

FTP works by using two separate channels for communication between the FTP client and server. The first channel is used for control messages, such as commands to list files or download a file. The second channel is used for data transfer, such as the actual contents of a file being downloaded.

FTP uses two communication modes: “active” and “passive” modes.

In active mode, the FTP server determines the port number that the client will connect to. The client then initiates the connection using the server’s IP address and port number. The passive mode works slightly differently. 

In passive mode, the client initiates both connections. The first connection is made to the FTP server’s control port (usually port 21), and the second is made to a randomly selected high port number on the server. Once both connections have been established, data can be transferred between the client and server.  

If you want to take advantage of working with FTP clients, you’ll need a modern FTP with a graphical interface or practice your command-line skills. The following are some examples of FTP clients to try:

  • Cyberduck
  • Filezilla
  • Classic FTP
  • FireFTP
  • WinSCP
  • Transmit
  • ForkLift
  • Commander One
  • SmartFTP

Users with GUI FTP clients see using FTP similarly to the traditional File Management system used on Linux, Windows, and Mac PCs.

The Benefits of FTP

FTP has several advantages over other file transfer methods:


FTP is much faster than email for transferring large files. It is because only the actual data is transferred, not the entire message, including headers and attachments.


FTP works with all major operating systems and web browsers. It makes it a universal solution for file transfer.

Ease of Use 

FTP is relatively simple to set up and use. Additionally, many graphical user interfaces (GUIs) make FTP even easier to use.

Multiple transfers

FTP is used to transfer multiple files at the same time, making it more efficient than other protocols.


FTP can be configured to use SSL/TLS encryption for added security. This ensures that data cannot be intercepted and read by third parties.

Common FTP client Commands  

Here is a list of typical FTP client commands:

cd: Changes the active working directory on the FTP host server.

cwd: Changes the working directory to the specified remote directory.

get: Downloads a single file.

bye or close: Terminates an FTP connection.

dir: Requests a directory of files uploaded or available for download.

mput: Interactively uploads multiple files.

mget: Interactively downloads multiple files.

open: Starts an FTP connection.

pwd: Queries the current working directory.

put: Uploads a single file.

ren: Renames or moves a file.

Alternatives to FTP 

When it comes to transferring files between two systems, FTP has long been the go-to protocol. However, FTP is not without its disadvantages. It is notoriously challenging to set up and configure and is not exceptionally reliable. As a result, alternatives to FTP are increasingly being sought after. 

Some of the alternatives include:

  • SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol)
  • MFT (Managed File Transfer)
  • HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)
  • AS2 (Applicability Statement 2)
  • FTPS (File Transfer Protocol over SSL/TLS)

Discover More With FTP Today

An FTP server might suit you if you regularly send people files. In short, FTP allows you to connect directly to the files that make up your WordPress site. You can add, edit, and delete information and code directly without visiting your WordPress dashboard or hosting cPanel. FTP has a wide range of applications and even simplifies some of your most common tasks.

Have any questions or comments? Write them below!

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