The nitty gritty details of FTP

As in anything, there are terms often bandied about under the presumption that we all know what the term means, what it refers to, and how to do it!  Living with such blinders on is often dangerous and I fell victim to it recently when I gave someone an answer about hosting their photos online that referenced FTP.  I presumed they knew what I meant, knew what FTP was, and had their own method for using FTP, when the truth is – FTP can be very confusing, especially if all you do is take pictures.

So, in the interests of helping people get a clearer picture of what FTP is, how it relates to being a photographer, and how to use it to share your images online – keep on reading!  For the rest of you – keep on reading anyway, as I might get something wrong, and I need a lot of people to double-check me and keep me on the straight and narrow! 🙂

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and it’s really just a fancy name for moving your files and photos from a local storage device (like your computer) to a remote storage device (like a website).  You can run FTP through your browser, (think uploading images to places like Flickr or MPix), but this is slower, and more clunky – a dedicated application can do it much faster, and handle more files!  These are called FTP clients.

So, which FTP client should you use?  It depends on a couple things – first off, what type of computer you are running.  Windows and Apple have different systems and some applications (like FTP clients) aren’t universally designed for both.  So, your OS matters.  I look at 2 on each system in a companion article I will attach to this post.  Pick whichever one works best for your budget and work flow.

There’s only one more point I can think of regarding FTP that you should probably consider – security.  Some applications allow you to store your FTP site connection details  – the web address, your logon credentials, within the client.  While this may make connecting easier for you – now anyone can do it.  So watch out where you save this stuff.  if it’s on a computer that you have constant control over that is one thing, but if you are portable, or using a web-based client, that could be dangerous.  My recommendation there is not to save these credentials.  Doing so just opens a security risk – and your website being compromised could be a serious problem.

Security of the client application should not be confused with the security of the protocol – remember, FTP stands for file transfer protocol, and it’s an open format.  Depending on how your website is hosted, you might be able to transmit content over a secure connection (it’s called SSH, but you can think of it as a “secure file transfer protocol” or SFTP if that makes it easier), and while this is the preferred method, some hosting companies don’t like it.  So, before you decide on a host – shop around and ask if they have port 22 access (the number specifically associated with SSH).  Another thing to consider – even if you don’t think you need to know now – down the road is another story!

That’s it for today.  What are your favorite clients that you use for website content?  Share your own thoughts in the comments, and feel free to download my article on “Choosing an FTP Client” that goes into all the details!   Happy shooting and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow.

As always, don’t forget about the monthly contest series.  This month, be sure to post your best Height shot to the Flickr Community thread


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11 comments for “The nitty gritty details of FTP

  1. February 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Hey Jason,

    you mixed something up in your article. The first thing is that SFTP uses port 22, which is actually much more than just “Secure File Transfer Protocol”. In fact it’s SSH – Secure Shell. You can also run FTPS – an enhancement to the FTP protocol which adds encryption of either the data or transport channel (or both) via SSL/TLS.
    But one should always consider a hoster that supports SSH (and SFTP), because it gives you much more control over your webspace. The old FTP is also a real diva when it comes to firewalls because there are two different ways (active/passive) of transferring content via FTP.

    My favorite ftp client for Mac OS is Cyberduck and for Windows it’s WinSCP.

    .-= Chris´s last blog ..How-To: Clean Your Camera Gear =-.

    • February 9, 2010 at 11:11 am

      Good catch Chris – I was cobbling the post together after I had a long chat with a photogrpaher friend who was having some problems and I was trying to simplify things too much – 22 is indeed SSH, which, as you say is more than just SFTP. It is a good feature for hosting providers to have though, and I would not recommend using a provider that doesn’t give you that level of access.

      Anyway, nice catch (see, now aren’t you glad you read the post even though you knew all about FTP?) 🙂

      • February 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm

        You’re totally right about not using a hoster without SSH and of course one does always learn something new – it’s a nice article. 😉
        (But, 23 is not SSH, it’s Telnet. Telnet is the old unencrypted predecessor of SSH . SSH is 22)

        Chris 🙂
        .-= Chris´s last blog ..How-To: Clean Your Camera Gear =-.

        • February 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

          I get it right in post, then wrong in comments…I should not be multi-tasking or writing these things without paying attention to what I am doing…all should be accurate now! 🙂

  2. Jim Orr
    February 9, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Thanks for the ftp stuff!! Is Chapter 3 part of a book? If so, how can I get the other chapters, particularly about how to prepare images for the Web?

    Also, why, oh, why, at the end of Chapter 3, does it say: “Now onto Chapter 5”? Is Chapter 4 a stealth chapter, only meant for those in the Secret Society and readable after producing the Secret Handshake?

    Love your blog. Thanks for all the info and inspiration you provide!

    J O

    • February 9, 2010 at 11:14 am

      Hi Jim,

      It is part of a book that I was putting together with photographers in mind of how to set a website the right way! Chapter 4, which is the one you were reading, got typo-ed in the title line and since it is still sort of a Work in Progress, I had not bothered to fix it yet (call me lazy). 🙂 If you’d like I can send you the first 3 chapters…I’ll have to dig around for them though as I don’t think they are online anymore.

  3. Jim Orr
    February 11, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Yes, Jason, I would like to see the first 3 chapters, at your convenience. Thanks!!

  4. February 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Jason, I like your article. Very succinct in your descriptions of a somewhat complex and arcane procedure 😉
    For the Linux (RedHat, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc) crowd there are also many choices. I’ve been using Filezilla (which also works pretty well on Windows) but there are many other choices. I recommend looking at your repository and trying a handful until you find one that works for you.

    As for web hosts, I really prefer to do mass uploads/downloads via rsync over ssh. It’s a much more efficient protocol than ftp/sftp so you can transfer more files in the same amount of time. There are some GUI front-ends for rsync (grsync comes to mind) but I generally just write some scripts to handle things.

    Ciao, Danté
    .-= DantePasquale´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

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