What is FTP and How to Use it?

If you are building a website for yourself, sooner or later you will need to upload some files to your server. There are different ways to upload files to your website, but the quickest and most convenient way is to use FTP.

FTP is the abbreviation for “File Transfer Protocol”. It is the way files are transferred over the internet between two computers. To use FTP, you will need an FTP software. There are various FTP programs available, some are free others are commercial.

The concept of each FTP software is basically the same: two windows, one that shows the files from your local computer and another that shows the files from the web server. The two windows can communicate with each other with click or drag-and-drop commands. To be able to connect to a web server, you will have to initially set up the login information. Without this data you cannot upload or download files from a server via FTP.

In the next part of the article I will teach you how to pick a reliable software, set up the connection and transfer the files. I will also show you some tricks to save you some time.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • Which FTP software to choose and why?
  • How to use the chosen FTP program?
  • Tips and tricks on how to speed up file transfer.

What FTP software should I use?

As mentioned, there are many programs you can choose from, but here are my top 3 favorite FTP programs I would recommend.

If you are a MAC user, the best FTP application for you is CyberDuck. For a windows user I would recommend FileZilla and if you prefer a browser based FTP, you should opt for FireFtp, which is a FireFox extension.

best ftp software

CyberDuck is a free FTP software that has paid options. It is available for Mac and Windows as well, however it is the most popular FTP application used among iOS users.

FileZilla is a free, open source software, probably the most popular on Windows. It is reliable and frequently updated. It is available for Macintosh as well.

FireFTP is a FireFox specific extension, which can be installed to your browser. Unfortunately it only works with FireFox and it is not available for Chrome or other web browser.

These are the three programs I use and recommend. If you are using other FTP software that you like, please to let us know in comments at the end of this page.

How to use an FTP software?

Once you have installed your favorite FTP program to your computer, you will need to set up the connection. To connect to your web server, you will need an ftp host, user name and password. This information is usually sent via email by your web hosting provider on signup. If your hosting plan allows having multiple FTP accounts, you can easily create a new account via cPanel. For instance, InMotion hosting and BlueHost allows you to have as many FTP accounts as you need.

ftp set up new connection

Once you have all the necessary data, just create a new connection in the FTP program and save it. The software will remember this connection and you can easily connect to your server when you need it.

After establishing the connection to you server, you will be able to upload, download, edit, rename, delete and view files and folders.

upload files with ftp program

Common use of FTP program

At this point you know how to setup an FTP software, how to create an FTP account and establish a connection. But let’s see what some real life examples when we can use it.

If you are using WordPress or Joomla to build your website, images can be uploaded via the media manager, so you will not need to upload it via FTP. There are some limitations however in size and number of files you can upload at a time within Joomla and WordPress. So uploading in bulk will only be possible with an FTP software.

Another real life example is when you have to rename files, for instance the htaccess.txt file to .htaccess to enable search engine friendly URLs and mod_rewriting.

Sometimes you have to change the permission of some folders or files in order to use some plugins or extensions.

The Google and other search engine verification file can also be uploaded via FTP. Backing up your website or moving to a new server will also require use of FTP.

These are only few examples of what an FTP application can be used for, but there is a lot more to it.

Is there any alternative to FTP?

If your web hosting account is using cPanel, instead of using FTP, you can manage files and folders with the in-built “Flie Manager” tool. This works similar to an FTP software, however it is browser based only. You can only use the tool if you are logged in to your hosting account.

Another way to manage files on a web server is with SSH commands. SSH connection is however is not enabled on every hosting account and it is more complicated to use.

Tricks and tips with FTP

When uploading files in bulk, it can take minutes or even hours to upload a large number of files to your web server. One large file can be uploaded faster than multiple small ones. So to speed things up, you can compress the files that are going to be uploaded into a .zip file and once the .zip is uploaded you can extract the files on the server. This process is much faster than uploading each file individually.

Final words and recommendation

So should you consider using an FTP program? I would definitely recommend installing an FTP software to your computer if you are build websites. At the beginning you may not use it as often, but once you are getting more familiar with site-building, you will get used to it. When creating an FTP account, make sure you choose a strong user and password; do not use the same login info as for your WordPress or Joomla or other login.

If you have questions or suggestions regarding FTP, submit your feedback in the comments below.


David Cross

David is the chief editor at WebHostingMedia right from the beginning. He has a great passion for building and managing websites and creating helpful content. He is also interested in programming - currently learning python.