Most modern Web hosting providers include a suite of programs in their control panel that will install Web applications like blogs, content management systems or even shopping carts with just a few clicks. If you base your Web site around these applications, you may never need to upload files to your Web server.
If you chose to build your Web site in a program like Dreamweaver, or use an application that does not come as standard on your host, however, you will need to transfer files between your computer and the server, and to do this you will need to connect via an FTP connection.
What Is FTP?
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and it's one way files are transferred between computers on the Internet. Unlike when you view files using a browser, where scripts are executed and you view the content, when you work with files in FTP, the files remain closed and scripts are not executed. Instead you are able to copy, cut and paste the files, or even rename them, plus create directories and manipulate file permissions. It's like the difference between opening a Microsoft Word document in Word, or managing the file in Windows Explorer.
What Do I Need to Connect via FTP?
To connect to your Web host's server on your account, you will need four pieces of information. These will normally be included in your welcome email from your host, or will be available on your control panel when you log in to your account.
- Host Name – This is the name of the computer where your files are to be stored remotely. It will normally be the name of your domain, for example mysite.com, but may have “ftp” in front of it, eg ftp.mysite.com.
- Host Directory – The directory on the remote computer to which you have access permissions to store your files. For many hosts this will be either “www” or “public_html”
- User Name – This may be the same as the user name you use to log in to your control panel, or may be a separate assigned user name.
- Password – again this may be the same as the one you use to log in, or a unique one. These should be changed regularly and should contain random sequences of letters, numbers and any non alpha numeric characters allowed.
You will also need suitable software. If you have created your site in Dreamweaver or another Web authoring program, you may be able to use that to upload your files.
When do I need to use FTP software?
If you are uploading a blog platform or other Web application that is not supported by your host, you will need to download the files to your computer, make any necessary changes, then connect to your host using FTP software and upload them. If this is you, and you are using a Windows operating system, Cute FTP is a good free option. If you are using a Mac, Fetch is a popular alternative.
Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than ten years. During that time she has won three design awards, and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and more than 50,000 Web pages.