Are you wondering, “What is an FTP hosting service?” For that matter, what exactly is provided by an FTP host? File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a crucial mechanism for copying files to and from a Web server. In fact, many of the world’s Web-hosting solutions utilize FTP as the primary way for customers to upload their websites. The following explores FTP, its applications, and common options provided by FTP hosting providers.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) in a Nutshell
You are probably aware that all website URLs begin with “http://.” This is referred to as the “protocol”—the mechanism in which the client computer communicates with the Web server. In this case, “http” stands for hypertext transfer protocol, and is used to request Web pages (i.e., hypertext). FTP therefore is the protocol used to request and upload items between the client machine and FTP host, and is relegated strictly to files.
As mentioned previously, FTP is predominantly used for data transfer. Common use cases include copying images, videos, music, application files, and a plethora of other media types for access via the Web. Website development is commonly done on a user’s local computer, with the site (images, HTML files, scripts) uploaded in bulk to the server once complete. Some text editors used to create and modify HTML files also use FTP to copy files back and forth between the Web server and the user’s local computer. With these editors, users open and save files as if they were stored locally, with the FTPing occurring as a background process. To get an idea of what companies may offer Web hosting—including free FTP hosting—check our breakdown of Web hosting solutions.
If you have used Dropbox or Box, an FTP hosting service provides similar functionality. The latter offers cloud storage in a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering, while FTP hosting requires the use of special software—an FTP client—to upload and download files. Often, FTP hosting providers will give their customers a special Web interface to easily drag and drop items to be uploaded and downloaded. Hardcore users can also utilize FTP through the command line.
By far the most common way to copy and download files from your FTP host is with FTP client software. This desktop software allows for easy, explorer-like file manipulation. Using an FTP client enables easy operations of common file actions like uploading/downloading, modifying file permissions, and moving entire directory structures. Popular and free FTP client applications include Filezilla, SmartFTP, and CoreFTP, among others.
About Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP)
SFTP is a version of FTP that offers advanced security mechanisms to ensure that the files transferred are encrypted during uploading or downloading. This offers stronger security, as regular FTP transmits data in clear text and is readily viewable by anyone. Many are moving toward SFTP as a replacement for standard FTP, as today’s threat landscape calls for more stringent security controls to reduce exposure to cyber-attacks. SFTP requires the use of SSH—or secure shell—to transmit encrypted uploads and downloads over a protected channel.
Getting Started with FTP Hosting
FTP hosting usually comes standard with Web-hosting plans, but check with specific vendors for their range of options. For example, some may not offer SFTP in certain plans, while others have strict file quotes limiting server space, file size(s), and daily upload limits.