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What is FTP?

FTP is one of those words that tends to scare beginners away from learning about web design. It just has the sound of something complicated and difficult to learn. The truth of the matter is that it couldn't be simpler and everyone should know how to ftp. FTP stands for "File Transfer Protocol". Think of it as a "File Transfer System" or a way to send a file from one computer to another. The "protocol" simply means that both computers are using the same "agreed on" rules for sending and receiving the file.

Getting your files to display in a web browser as web pages, for all the world to see, often means using a FTP client. A FTP client is just a piece of software that handles the transfer of your files. It's programmed with those "rules" we just talked about. A FTP client lets you browse the files on both, your computer and your webserver, at the same time. As you view both sets of files, you transfer them back and forth by highlighting the files you want to transfer and clicking an arrow in the middle of your ftp program (with most programs). It's typically as easy as entering the ftp address of your web server, your ftp login and password (your Web Host will give you your FTP information). You should then have full access to viewing and transferring your files back and forth. As a webpage designer, you need to have a good understanding how to use ftp.

What the heck is CHMOD?

If you use FTP, chances are that you'll eventually need to understand how to set permissions using CHMOD. CHMOD is abbreviated from the words "Change Mode". It means that you'll be changing the permissions on a file that exists on your Web Server. CHMOD only works if your host has their Web Server running on a Unix server. To make that even easier to understand, instead of running Microsoft Windows on their Web Server, they're using an operating system known as Unix, and that's nearly all online Web Servers today.

When logging in to your Web Server with your FTP client, you'll typically want to right-click a file to use CHMOD. To check ftp file permissions, look for an option that says 'CHMOD'. If you don't see one, try looking for an option that says 'Properties'. There are many different FTP programs available but most of them use one method or the other. The permissions you see on a file are expressed in two different ways. In the directory itself, through your ftp program, you'll the permissions listed as: rwx.

What does rwx mean?

  • r gives permission to read a file
  • w gives permission to write a file
  • x gives permission to execute a file. It's also necessary to search a directory

screenshot of WS_FTP?Bringing up the permissions in your FTP client will also show the numeric value of your permissions. You shouldn't need to change these under normal circumstances but there is the occasional script you might want to install and changing the permissions (usually on a folder) will be a requirement. A common script that comes to mind is a public upload script. You normally wouldn't want users to be able to upload files to your folders and by default, they can't. Giving full permissions to a folder, with a value of 777, would allow them to do this. Understand that most of your web design will not require you to know how to use CHMOD but, there have been enough times that I needed to understand this, that I feel it's necessary to address. There are many FTP programs available. Many of them are free. I personally use WS_FTP by Ipswitch, only because it's what I started with over a decade ago. At the time, it was the most feature rich FTP client you could find. That may or may not be true anymore but I still love using WS_FTP. It's the best FTP client for my needs. I've tried a few alternatives over the years but always come back. I know that free FTP software has come a long way and it's likely these free ftp clients now have all the features most people would ever need. Here is a list of the more popular free ftp software clients:

  • FireFTP - This is an extension for Firefox. If you use Firefox, installing this FTP clients just takes seconds.
  • FileZilla - Probably the most popular free FtP client on the market. It's been around for years and has a very large fan base. Grab the client.. not the Server download!
  • WinSCP - Another open source, free FTP client that supports sftp (secure file transfer protocol)

Whatever FTP program you choose, make sure that it makes your life easier. That's the reason they exist. Before the now popular FTP programs, FTP was accomplished through the command-line and while I still use the command line quite often today, there's no substitute for a well written, stable FTP client.


Amy Kastner is a Web-Designer, Online Marketing and Search Engine Optimization Specialist. You can usually find her on twitter, where she occasionally writes about interesting stuff.

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