File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

Last Updated: September 30, 2020

Definition - What does File Transfer Protocol (FTP) mean?

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a client/server protocol used for transferring files to or from a host computer. FTP may be authenticated with user names and passwords.

Anonymous FTP allows users to access files, programs and other data from the Internet without the need for a user ID or password. Web sites are sometimes designed to allow users to use "anonymous" or "guest" as a user ID, and an email address for a password. Publicly available files are often found in a specified directory and can be easily transferred to a user’s computer.

FTP is the Internet standard for moving or transferring files from one computer to another using TCP or IP networks. File Transfer Protocol is also known as RFC 959.

Techopedia explains File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

The original FTP specification was written by Abhay Bhushan and published as RFC 114 on April 16, 1971. This was later replaced by RFC 765 (June 1980).

The first FTP client applications used the DOS command prompt with standardized commands and syntax. Since then, many graphical user interface (GUI) clients have been developed within operating systems, making it easier for the user to upload and download files.

There are various types of FTP and different use cases:

  1. An FTP site is a web site where users can easily upload or download specific files.

  2. FTP by mail allows users without access to the Internet to access and copy files using anonymous FTP by sending an email message to [email protected] and putting the word help in the body of the text.

  3. FTP Explorer is an FTP client based on Windows 95 file manager (Windows 95 Explorer).

  4. An FTP server is a dedicated computer which provides an FTP service. This invites hackers and necessitates security hardware or software such as utilizing usernames, passwords and file access control.

  5. An FTP client is a computer application which accesses an FTP server. While doing so, users should block incoming FTP connection attempts using passive mode and should check for viruses on all downloaded files.

FTP and Successive Protocols

The FTP server was a traditional mainstay for a long time. However, as networks have evolved, file transfer protocols have evolved, too.

First of all, SFTP offers better security for the FTP system, which wasn't very secure to begin with. Similarly to how HTTP evolved to HTTPS, SFTP introduces new security protocols.

However, an even newer system called Managed File Transfer (MFT) adds even more cybersecurity, and it also offers error handling capabilities.

Beyond that, MFT setups are now made to offer different kinds of scheduling and automation features. Many of them deliver specific kinds of data visualization through dashboard technologies. This makes administration easier and shows network administrators what's going on inside of the network. It also optimizes how files are transferred. MFT can offer better capabilities for HIPAA, PCI or GDPR compliance or any other regulations that may apply.

We now think of FTP as a kind of legacy technology. In FTP server systems, the files were sent unencrypted, which is not a current best practice. So while some companies still use FTP, it is no longer the gold standard for file transfer.

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