What is FTP: FTP Explained for Beginners

What is FTP: FTP Explained for Beginners

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is one way to get and transfer files between computers. The protocol is one of the oldest methods that is still used today; its early development started in 1971. It was developed as a mechanism for granting access to users so that they could access and use files on a specific system. An average internet user wouldn’t use FTP that often. As a website developer, however, it is instrumental.

In this article, we will learn all the basics about FTP and how to use the protocol.

So What is FTP

As stated above, FTP is a method to access and share files on the internet. The protocol is a way to communicate between computers on a TCP/IP network, the internet.  It’s used by users who have access to transfer and receive files in the FTP server (also known as FTP host/site). The access control is essential to prevent an unauthorized person from getting those files.

Think about FTP like using Windows Explorer or a Finder on a laptop. With the help of such tools, the owner can get and move files – text, image or audio to a specific place in their drive.

As a website developer, FTP is often used to make changes to a website. Given the large number of files that need to be handled, it is more comfortable and secure to use FTP to manage them. For example, you can move a web template, add image files, upload specific files to build the website, etc.

How does FTP work?

FTP connection needs two parties to establish and communicate on the network. To do that, users need to have permission by providing credentials to the FTP server. Some public FTP servers may not require credentials to access their files. The practice is common in a so-called anonymous FTP.

There are two distinct communication channels while establishing an FTP connection. The first one is called the command channel where it initiates the instruction and response. The other one is called a data channel, where the distribution of data happens.

To get or transfer files, an authorized user will use the protocol to request on creating changes in the server. In return, the server will grant that access. This session is known as the active connection mode.

FTP Active Mode Diagram

The distribution in active mode might face a problem if a firewall is protecting the user’s machine. The firewall usually does not allow any unauthorized sessions from an external party.

FTP Active Mode Blocked by Firewall

The passive mode is used if that issue occurs. In passive mode, the user establishes both command and the data channel. This mode then asks the server to listen rather than to attempt to create a connection back to the user.

FTP Passive mode

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How to use FTP

There are three approaches on how to establish an FTP connection. A  very simple method is using a command line FTP, such as using Command prompt for Windows or Terminal in Mac/Linux. Developers still use it today for transferring files using FTP.

A user also can use a web browser to communicate with the FTP server. A web browser is more convenient when users want to access large directories in the server. Yet, it’s often less reliable and slower than using a dedicated FTP program.

Today, the most common practice to use FTP, especially for a web developer, is by using an FTP client.

An FTP client provides more freedom compared to the command line and web browser. It is also easier to manage and more powerful compared to the other methods.

There are also more features available whilst using such a client. For example, it allows users to transfer large files and use the synchronizing utility.

How to Connect to Hostinger FTP

There are many FTP clients to choose from. From free open-source applications to premium options. For the purpose of this article, we will use FileZilla, an open-source and popular FTP client

We will need an FTP server first, and we can set one up using our Hostinger account.

  1. Login to your Hostinger account and navigate to the FTP accounts section
  2. Create a new FTP account by filling out a new username and password
  3. You will see a new server (Hostname) under the list of active FTP accounts
    Hostinger hpanel create a new ftp account page
  4. In FileZilla, insert the hostname, username, and password and hit the Quickconnect button. You can also fill the port number. Otherwise, port 21 is used by default.
    filezilla login prompt and quickconnect button
  5. The status window will tell you if you are logged in to the FTP server. As you can see in the Remote Site window, these are the files that the server has.
    filezilla remote site view after successful connection


So there you have it, you can get and transfer files from an FTP server. As a web developer, you will need to use FTP with an FTP client to access the website that you are managing. Furthermore, it is easier to create and remove directories and read a large number of files on the server.

We hope this article helps you to understand the FTP as well as the different methods and programs used.

The Author


Luqmanul M. / @luqman

Luqman is a self-proclaimed social scientist. He is passionate about education, technology, and everything in between. He wants to help create a high-quality education system. Having spent the past four years as a social researcher and blog guru, he lends his skills to Hostinger's digital content team. As for free time, he enjoys reading scientific (and not-so-scientific) literature with a cup of black arabica coffee as a companion.

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