FTP is the most popular way to get your web pages from your PC to your Web server. This process is known as uploading, and FTP is the usual way to to it. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you what FTP does and how it does it.
How to use FTP
The easiest way to use FTP is to get yourself an FTP program (sometimes called a client) such as CuteFTP (Windows) or Fetch (Mac). These programs are usually free, or have a cut-down free trial version at least. FTP programs are generally pretty easy to use.
What FTP does
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It is an Internet standard that allows you to move or copy files from one computer to another. It works by establishing a connection between one computer (for example, your PC) and another (for example, your Web server). To do this, you need to know the host name (e.g. “webserver.example.com”) or IP address (e.g. “126.96.36.199”) of your Web server. Your FTP program will allow you to enter lots of different servers if you want (by host name or IP address), and usually you can double-click on one of them to connect to it.
Once connected, the Web server usually asks you for your user name and password. (If you’re using an FTP program such as CuteFTP or Fetch, you can save your user name and password so that you don’t have to type them in each time.)
You’re then logged in to your Web server. Once you’re logged in, you can start moving files about. On most FTP programs, this works a lot like Windows Explorer or other similar file managers. You can usually drag and drop files betwen your computer and the Web server, or even whole directories. You can also move files the other way – from the Web server back to your computer.
The home directory
When you first log in, you will be viewing your home directory on your Web server. This will be the directory that contains your website, amongst other files. With most FTP programs, you can move around your website directories (folders) in much the same way as on your PC, by double-clicking on the folder icons.
Some FTP programs will show two extra entries in the folder display – a single dot and a pair of dots. The single dot means “this directory” and usually does nothing, but the pair of dots mean “the directory above”. When you (double-)click on these dots, you will usually be taken to the directory above. Often, FTP programs use a little arrow icon or something, instead of the dots.
Things to look out for
Sometimes the FTP connection between your PC and your Web server will break for no apparent reason (usually a network problem on the Internet). It will also break if you are on a modem and you disconnect from the Internet, or if you wait around too long without transferring any files.
Your FTP program will probably tell you that you have been disconnected. You will then need to re-login in order to carry on transferring files.
The next step…
Now that you understand the basics of FTP, have a look in my Using FTP tutorials to see if your FTP program is listed. These tutorials give you more information about your particular program.