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'Eye' Focus: Web Support Tutorials

File Transfer

Table of Contents

(to Top) What is 'File Transfer' anyway?

The process referred to as File Transfer allows for a remote connection from one computer to another with the purpose of moving, copying, and deleting files between systems. There are many protocols for this process, some of which are: FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol), SSH (Secure SHell protocol), or SCP (Secure Copy Protocol).

Sometimes we forget that the Internet, when you strip away all the hype, is really still just a large network of computers. One of the primary purposes of a network is to allow different computers on the network to share resources, including files.

At least some form of file transfer is available to anyone who has access to the Internet. File transfer protocols are an information "service" available to any Internet user, just like the Web and e-mail. The Web itself uses methods like HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and HTTPS (or HTTP-SSL having a Secure Socket Layer applied).

Like many other services, the process and protocol is independent of the software you use to access it. For example you can use current web browsers, an operating system's command line FTP client, the graphical WS_FTP LE for PC's, or the graphical Fetch for Mac's each to perform FTP operations with files on networked computers.

In this tutorial, we will first discuss the fundamentals of how FTP does what it does. Then we will do some hands-on downloading and uploading with WS_FTP LE. If you are a Macintosh user, you may also wish to see the information on Fetch for the Mac that was originally developed at Dartmouth College. A tutorial on Using Fugu: The Basics is available at the Columbia University site. Both of these programs are free for use by educational and non-profit organizations.

(to Top) File Transfer Software

The majority of this tutorial addresses the use and application of the program WS_FTP LE, a very popular product from IPSwitch that has been around for many years. Though the tutorial is specific to this product, most of the references and options are available in any file transfer program, and WS_FTP has been the basis of the graphical design of most of them.

File transfer for PC users:

File transfer for Mac users:

Mac Users: Once you download Fetch from the Fetch Softworks site, go to 'Educational' in the left column to register for educational use. Both of these programs are free to users affiliated with an educational institutions or charitable, non-profit organizations.

(to Top) File Transfer Fundamentals

Uploading and Downloading:

Simply put, FTP allows you to access a directory on a networked computer and transfer a file to or from that computer and your (local) computer. Normally, you will be transferring the file to or from a large, multi-user computer and the local computer. Files can be transferred in either direction. "Downloading," refers to the transfer of a file from a remote computer to the local computer. "Uploading" refers to the transfer of a file from the local computer to a remote computer.

In order to upload or download a file by FTP, you need to do four things:
  1. Login into a remote computer that has been configured as a file server.
  2. That remote system will generally ask for a username and a password before you can gain access to it.
  3. Once connected, change to the particular directory on the remote system that contains the file you wish to download or upload.
  4. Finally, transfer the file to or from the system in question to complete the operation.

Anonymous and non-anonymous FTP:

There are two types of FTP connections available on the Internet: "anonymous" and "non-anonymous." The most widely used type is anonymous FTP. In fact, you may have used it without even knowing it. Many web pages contain links to files that you can download. Often these links point to a file in an anonymous FTP directory.

If a file is stored in an anonymous FTP directory virtually anyone with Internet access and an FTP program of some sort, even a web browser, can download the file. Uploading, on the other hand, is not usually possible with anonymous FTP. Therefore, anonymous FTP is used primarily to give the Internet public download access to a particular directory of files. Anyone can download files from the directory, but only the "owner" of directory can upload to the directory.

When you connect to an FTP directory, the host system asks for your username and password before allowing you access to the directory (this process is done behind the scenes when you use a web browser to access an FTP directory). With an anonymous FTP directory, any user can gain access because the username is always "anonymous" and the password is always the user's e-mail address.

Non-anonymous FTP, on the other hand, requires a unique username and password for the FTP directory in question. Normally, you will use non-anonymous FTP to get access to directories that YOU OWN on the server.

(to Top) Connecting to FTP Sites with WS_FTP LE

Obtaining and installing WS_FTP LE:

While you can use the FTP program that comes with Windows to get files using FTP, the Windows FTP program is a text-based tool modeled after the Unix FTP client and is not very user-friendly. A much better program is the shareware program, WS_FTP LE, which is available from most shareware download sites.

WS_FTP LE comes as a self-installing file. You must first download the file to your hard drive, locate it, and then install it. WS_FTP LE is downloadable with your browser from the following FTP location:

WS_FTP LE for Windows 3.x/9x/NT

Downloading a file from an anonymous FTP site with WS_FTP LE:

When you start WS_FTP LE the first window you are presented is the "Session Profile" (see example 1 below). In this window you can create a login script, or "session," that specifies all the details necessary to connect to a particular FTP directory on a networked server.

Using the image as a guide, create a session profile with details listed below. As you go through these items, you will begin to understand how an FTP connection works. Please note that not all versions of WS_FTP LE look exactly like the examples below. All of the features mentioned, however, should be available to you. Just poke around the program interface until you find them.

Example 1:

Session Profile Window

(to Top) Creating a "Session Profile"

To Begin: Select "New" to create a new session profile and then complete the items needed for this new profile.

Profile Name: The name you assign to a particular FTP session profile. This is completely up to you. The name you use should identify the site clearly so that you know what the site is and why you want to connect to it. In this sample case you probably want to name it WS_FTP.

Host Name: The name of the Host containing the web directory you need to access. For this first example, enter ftp1.ipswitch.com.

Host Type: The type of operating system that the FTP host is running. Most Internet computers, but not all, run a powerful, multi-user, UNIX style operating system. The dialog box in Example 1 is set to "Automatic detect" which will make WS_FTP LE automatically determine the type of operating system to which it connects. Automatic detection works well for most systems.

Anonymous Login: Unless you are the owner of this directory, or have been given a username and password by the system administrators, you will be logging in anonymously, as discussed above. If this is correct check this check box. For your own web site you will have a personal password and username that you would use instead.

Save Password: It is best NOT to check this box. If you login each time you connect to the machines, not only keep your account secure, you also remember the password when you need to change it later. If your computer is not in a secure environment you should ALWAYS enter your password each time you login. If you check this box, anyone with access to your computer can pretend to be you and login to this FTP directory.

User ID: This is the login assigned to the person with the access account. If this is an anonymous FTP site, the username will be "anonymous" so that anyone on the Internet may get access to the directory.

Password: The password assigned to the person owning this account. If this is an anonymous FTP site, the password will be your e-mail address. The e-mail address password is a courtesy to the owner of the anonymous FTP site. It tells the owner who is logging into the anonymous FTP directory and allows them to evaluate what content interests people from different providers. This information helps the service provider to provide a better service. You can simply enter guest@unknown if you wish to remain anonymous.

Remote Host: This specifies the FTP directory on the remote host that contains the files that interest you. Note that the slashes that separate the directories are "forward slashes" (/), as opposed to the "back slashes" (\) that DOS and Windows users are familiar with using. This is because the FTP host computer in the example runs the Unix operating system. If you leave this dialog box blank, you will login to a default directory on the host system. When in doubt, leave this box blank. For our example, enter: /pub/win32

Local PC: This specifies the directory on your computer where downloaded files will go to, and uploaded files will come from, when you FTP. You should enter in this box a directory path that actually exists on your hard drive. With this defined you will have immediate access the directory as soon as you login. If you leave this dialog box blank (as shown in the example), a default directory (normally the WS_FTP LE program directory) will be used.

Now save this session profile. To use your profile make sure your "Profile Name" is in the box and click OK to connect to this FTP site. You should now be connected to the public download site where WS_FTP LE is available. If you are prompted for your password (your e-mail address for an anonymous connections) simply enter the password and press enter.

Example 2:

Downloading with WS_FTP LE

Once you connect...

Note the paired symmetry of the window. WS_FTP LE conveniently splits the window into two parts to represent the two computers that are now connected via the Internet. On the left side of the window are your local files, the ones on your computer. On the right side you will find the files that reside on the FTP site. Note: The files in this directory will probably have been changed by the time you read this.

Find the vertical scroll bar under the Remote System side of the screen. Scroll down until you can see this file: WS_FTPLE.EXE

This is the self-installing executable, an ".exe" file, that you are using if you downloaded from the link listed above. This is an example, at least, of how FTP works. You could download it again, but there is no need to have two copies of the same file. You might want to try a text file instead: "ws_ftp32.txt"

To download this file to your hard drive:
Click once on "ws_ftp32.txt", then click on the left pointing arrow in the middle of your screen (You should see this:  <- ).

Note how the "Progress Gauge" window indicates that the file is downloading to your hard drive. When the download is complete the side that has changed will be updated to show the directories contents. You can now see that the "ws_ftp32.txt" file has downloaded to your hard drive.

When you are done downloading click on the Close button to close the connection with this FTP site, or click on Exit to close the connection and exit the program.

(to Top) Transferring a File to Your Web Server

Preparing a non-anonymous FTP session with WS_FTP LE is very similar to the above example for an anonymous FTP session. The two differences are that you must specify a unique User ID and password in your profile. Then you can upload, as well as download, once you are connected.

This time we'll create and save an FTP session profile in WS_FTP LE for your "home" directory on the server. You might also want to make a session for other accounts you may have.

Let's make a the new, non-anonymous, FTP session profile:

Click on a file on the left side of your screen with your cursor and then click on the right pointing arrow button (You should see this:  -> ) to upload the file to your home directory on the remote computer. Then try downloading by first clicking on a file on the right side of your screen and then clicking on the left pointing arrow button. Easy, isn't it?

When you are finished, close your connection with the remote computer, or exit the program.

(to Top) Using the Windows FTP Program

So you don't want to be bothered with downloading and installing WS_FTP LE, eh? OK, here's how to use the built-in Windows FTP program. We will download a file from the anonymous FTP site using the same type of example we used above.

First open an MS-DOS Window and follow these instructions, entering the information you see in the boxes, and then pressing ENTER.

If you still do not know where the file is and you are using Windows 9x or better then try the following: Select Start, Find, Files or Folders... (the find utility will start). Enter pkz204g.exe (when the search is done, note the location of the file so you can find it later).

[Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2007]