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Could someone give me a concise description of an FTP client, what I would use one for, and give your opinion on whether one would be useful to me?

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P.S. The Wikipedia article didn't make much sense. –  Web_Designer Jul 13 '11 at 5:17
    
Why is this tagged as ftp-server? –  Mahmoud Hossam Jul 13 '11 at 13:14
    
@inquisitive_web_developer: That is just because FTP is a weird protocol. From what I know FTP is the only protocol based on TCP that uses separate control and data connections. –  Nicolai Reuschling Jul 13 '11 at 16:45

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A client application is a program which makes requests to a server (like a customer asking a waiter for a cup of coffee; 'client,' 'server,' get it?) Your web browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chome, Safari, whichever) is a client program. It makes requests on your behalf to servers that hold web pages.

An FTP client is just the same, only it makes requests on your behalf to FTP servers. An FTP server is a program, usually running on a server computer, which allows users to upload, download and delete files on the server computer (whereas your web browsing client may have only the most rudimentary uploading and deleting capabilities.)

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+1 Thanks for the clear analogy, and explanation! –  Web_Designer Jul 19 '11 at 21:52

What I would use one for?

An FTP client is an application that allows you to upload and download files to a server called an FTP Server using the FTP protocol. It's a very old protocol and quite insecure as it sends password/username/data in the clear. A more secure variant is called SFTP and there are clients that support this as well as the traditional insecure FTP.

Give your opinion on whether one would be useful to me?

It might well be seeing as your handle is "Web_Designer". Many web servers want you to upload files using FTP or SFTP. So in that case you may well need a client if this is the only method they provide or if you're uploading many files it may be quicker than using the web provided uploader.

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FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It as a protocol to transer or copy files from one machine to another. You need a client to copy files from a server that is running this protocol. Most web browsers have that protocol built in so you already have a client. It's up to you to decide if you need a more specialized client for some purpose. There are a number of freely available FTP clients, such as FileZilla and Free-FTP, of which FileZilla is particularly feature-rich.

In the early days of the Internet it was more common to share repositories of files using "anonymous" FTP servers. Actually, it's still pretty common today. You can log in as user "anonymous", and select from their collection of freely available files for downloading. It is a way to share stuff, usually open source programs.

For example: ftp://distro.ibiblio.org/pub/linux/distributions/gentoo/

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I would only add to this that reasons you may need an FTP client include: if you manage a website and need to transfer files to and from it, if you need to securely transfer files larger than normal email attachments to and from another company. This really is a case of "if you need it, you'll know you need it, and if you don't, you won't". –  music2myear Jul 13 '11 at 14:07
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@music2myear I would specifically point out that FTP is not in any way to be considered secure. It sends everything in plaintext, including login information. If you want to securely transfer files, use SFTP, FTPS, or another protocol that provides encryption and authentication. –  Darth Android Jul 13 '11 at 16:39
    
That is true. However, the clients and user-specified connection settings for SFTP and FTPS tend to be transparent to the user compared with "regular" FTP in the same way that navigating to an HTTPS site differs in no way, for the user, than navigating to an HTTP site. –  music2myear Jul 13 '11 at 17:44

A FTP client is an application that runs on your computer. You enter an address, username and password to connect to a (FTP) server.

The most common use for FTP clients these days is to transfer files from your own computer to a web server (web host).

So if you have a site hosted on e.g. Dreamhost, you would use a FTP client to transfer local files to there. Could be PHP files, HTML files, images, a set of files like a WordPress installation.

You can also use the FTP client to download files from the web server, for example to back them up.

There are more secure variations on FTP like SFTP. FTP clients typically support them as well and hide away the technical differences.

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and not forgetting the famous scp which can be used as well with ssh. These two are alot more secure than FTP. so you might consider using them. If you still insist on using ftp, you might want to use this http://filezilla-project.org/

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+1 - for scp. –  boehj Jul 13 '11 at 10:30

You would need one if you needed to interact with a FTP server.

These days, authenticated file transfer can be done with SSH or HTTP, and anonymous file transfer can be done with HTTP, leaving far less need for FTP than there once was.

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Also, the web browser has FTP protocol built in already. So there is little need for an additional client. –  Keith Jul 13 '11 at 5:57
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@Keith: Web browsers usually have limited FTP functionality: they can retrieve files over FTP but not upload them. –  vtest Jul 13 '11 at 10:48
    
@vtest yes, but 99% of the time that's what people do with it these days. –  Keith Jul 13 '11 at 10:51
    
You can also up and download via Windows Explorer without the need for an FTP Client –  Matt Wilko Jul 13 '11 at 11:44

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