By Ellie / Last Updated February 5, 2024

What is FTP?

What is FTP?FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, enables the seamless transfer of files between computers over the Internet using TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Users with granted access can effortlessly send and receive files within the FTP server, also recognized as the FTP host or site.


In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, FTP plays a crucial role. It serves as the backbone for uploading and managing website files, making it an indispensable tool for developers and administrators.

How does FTP work?

FTP connections involve two parties communicating on the network. Users gain access by providing credentials to the FTP server. Some public FTP servers, known as anonymous FTP, don't require credentials.

There are two channels in FTP connections. The command channel manages instructions and responses, while the data channel handles data distribution.

To get or transfer a file, authorized users use the protocol to request changes on the server, and the server grants access. This is the active connection mode. However, firewalls may block active mode. In such cases, passive mode is used, where the user establishes both channels, and the server listens instead of creating a connection back to the user.

How to use FTP

Establishing an FTP connection can be approached in three ways:

  • Command line: A straightforward method involves using a command-line FTP, like Command Prompt for Windows or Terminal in Mac/Linux. Developers still utilize this method for file transfers via FTP due to its simplicity.
  • Web browser: Users can also interact with the FTP server using a web browser. This method proves convenient when accessing extensive server directories. However, it's often considered less reliable and slower compared to using a dedicated FTP program.
  • FTP client: The most common method today, especially for web developers. An FTP client offers more freedom than the command line or web browser. It's easy to manage, powerful and comes with additional features, such as transferring large files and a synchronizing utility.

Let's use the FTP client WinSCP as an example to demonstrate how to utilize FTP for file transfer.

Step 1. Visit the official WinSCP website at Download the latest version of WinSCP and follow the installation instructions to install it on your Windows machine.

Step 2. After installation, launch WinSCP. In the WinSCP Login window, you'll find several sections:

  • File protocol: Choose the desired protocol (e.g., SFTP, SCP, FTP).
  • Hostname: Enter the IP address or domain name of the remote server.
  • Port number: Set the connection port number (default is usually fine).
  • Username: Enter your remote server username.
  • Password: Input your password. For added security, SSH keys can be used (advanced).

Click "Save" to save your session settings for future use.

Step 3. Click "Login" to connect to the remote server.

winscp login window

Step 4. If it's your first connection, you may encounter a security warning. Review and accept the server's key fingerprint.

winscp warning message

Step 5. The WinSCP interface is split into two panels: the left for your local machine and the right for the remote server. Navigate through local files on the left and remote files on the right.

winscp file transfer window

Step 6. To upload files (local to remote), go to the local file on the left, select the file(s) to upload, and drag-drop them onto the desired directory on the remote server's right panel. To download files (remote to local), navigate to the remote file on the right, select the file(s) to download, and drag-drop them to the desired directory on the local machine's left panel.

Key security pros and cons of FTP

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a widely used method for transferring files over the internet, but like any technology, it comes with its own set of security considerations. Let's delve into the key security pros and cons of FTP to help users make informed decisions about its usage.

Security pros

  • Simplicity & accessibility

One of FTP's strengths lies in its simplicity. It is easy to set up and use, making it accessible to users with varying technical expertise. This simplicity contributes to quick and straightforward file transfers.

  • Wide adoption

FTP is a well-established protocol that has been in use for decades. Its widespread adoption means that many systems and applications support it, ensuring compatibility across different platforms.

  • User authentication

FTP requires user authentication before allowing access to files on the server. This helps in ensuring that only authorized individuals can perform file operations, adding a layer of security to the data stored on the server.

  • Variety of authentication methods

FTP supports various authentication methods, including usernames and passwords, as well as more secure options like SSH keys. Users can choose the level of security that best fits their needs.

  • Granular control over permissions

FTP allows administrators to define and control user permissions at a granular level. This enables the restriction of access to specific directories or files, enhancing security by minimizing the risk of unauthorized access.

Security Cons

  • Lack of encryption

One of the primary security concerns with traditional FTP is the lack of built-in encryption. This means that data transferred using FTP is vulnerable to interception, potentially exposing sensitive information.

  • Vulnerability to attacks

Traditional FTP transmits data, including login credentials, in plain text, making it susceptible to packet sniffing attacks. Malicious actors can intercept and exploit this information, compromising the security of the entire data transfer process.

  • Limited firewall compatibility

FTP uses multiple ports for data transfer, and this can pose challenges with firewalls. Active mode FTP, in particular, may encounter difficulties when passing through firewalls, potentially leading to connection issues.

  • No inherent integrity checks

FTP lacks built-in mechanisms to ensure the integrity of transferred files. While it successfully moves files from one location to another, there is no automatic verification process to confirm that the transferred data remains unchanged.

  • Manual security configuration

To enhance the security of FTP, users may need to implement additional security measures manually, such as using FTP over TLS/SSL (FTPS) or coupling FTP with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). This adds complexity to the setup process and requires extra effort from users.

Bonus tip: Free & easy FTP alternative for file transfer

While File Transfer Protocol (FTP) has been a staple for transferring files, the landscape is evolving, and alternatives are emerging. AnyViewer stands out as a versatile and user-friendly option for remote file transfer, offering features that cater to the modern demands of efficiency and security.

  • User-friendly interface: AnyViewer boasts an intuitive and user-friendly interface, making it accessible to users of all technical backgrounds. Unlike traditional FTP clients that might require manual configuration and command-line operations, AnyViewer simplifies the file transfer process with its graphical interface.
  • Seamless remote access: Beyond file transfer, AnyViewer excels in providing remote access to computers. This feature proves invaluable for troubleshooting, collaboration, or accessing files on a remote computer without the need for intricate setups.
  • Secure file transfers with encryption: Security is a top priority for AnyViewer. All file transfers are encrypted end-to-end, providing a secure environment for the exchange of sensitive data. This encryption ensures that files remain confidential during the transfer process, addressing one of the primary concerns associated with traditional FTP.
  • No need for port forwarding: Unlike FTP, AnyViewer operates on a peer-to-peer connection, eliminating the need for port forwarding. This simplifies the setup process, reducing the potential for configuration errors and ensuring a smoother user experience.
  • Multi-file & bulk transfers: AnyViewer facilitates the transfer of multiple files simultaneously, streamlining the process for users dealing with large volumes of data. This efficiency is particularly beneficial for businesses or enterprises involved in projects requiring the exchange of numerous files.

Step 1. Download and install AnyViewer on both devices.

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Step 2. Launch AnyViewer on the remote device and efficiently complete the straightforward sign-up process.

Log in AnyViewer.png

Step 3. Log into your local device using the same AnyViewer account.

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Step 4. Navigate to the "Device" section, find your desired remote devices, and initiate file sharing by selecting "File transfer."

File Transfer AnyViewer

Step 5. You are now able to seamlessly transfer files between the two devices.

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The bottom line

What is FTP? In conclusion, FTP is a vital tool for file transfer, though it poses security challenges. This guide offers insights into what FTP is, what is FTP used for, usage methods, and security considerations. For enhanced security, consider alternatives like AnyViewer, providing a user-friendly experience with encrypted transfers. Stay informed to make the best choice for your file transfer needs.