Learn more about File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

File Transfer Protocol paved the way for file sharing as we know it today. Read more about the old technology here.

17-08-2023 - 5 minute read. Posted in: tips.

Learn more about File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

The efficient and secure transfer of files is crucial in today's digital world, when data is the backbone of modern communication and businesses. The File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, is one of the fundamental technologies that has made seamless file sharing over the Internet possible.

This blog post will examine FTP's core principles, history, various implementations, and applicability in a world where there are numerous sophisticated data transfer techniques.

A Brief History of FTP

The origins of the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) can be traced back to the early days of computer networking. FTP was created in the 1970s by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student Abhay Bhushan as a straightforward and dependable method of moving files between computers via a network. The idea of the Internet was still in its early stages at the time, and computer systems were often incompatible and lacked established ways of communication.

FTP was included as part of the TCP/IP protocol suite, becoming one of the first applications to make use of the suite's underlying protocols. This created the groundwork for smooth file sharing, which was previously a tedious procedure, by enabling FTP to operate across many operating systems and network infrastructures.

How FTP Works

FTP primarily uses a client-server model. When requesting files from a distant server, one system serves as the client. While the server uses an FTP server program, the “client” uses a local FTP client program. The client, which connects to the server using port 21, the standard FTP port, then initiates the transfer process.

Here's a step-by-step breakdown of a typical FTP transfer:

  • Client authentication: The client establishes a connection with the server and enters authentication credentials (username and password) to access the remote file system.

  • Navigating the file system: When the client is verified, theycan navigate the server's file system using commands like "cd" (change directory) and "ls" (list directory contents) to locate the desired files or directories.

  • Uploading and downloading: Files can be transferred in two main directions: uploading from the client to the server, and downloading from the server to the client. Commands like "put" and "get" are used for these operations.

  • Data transfer: The client and server create a separate data connection for the actual file transfer when a file transfer command is issued. FTP has two modes of operation: active and passive. When in active mode, the client gives the server a port to connect to. When in passive mode, the server gives the client a port to connect to. To get around problems with firewalls and NAT (Network Address Translation), passive mode is often used.

  • Termination: The data connection is closed once the file transfer is finished, at which point the client can send more commands or end the FTP session.

Things to consider

Although FTP was revolutionary at the time it was created, the current state of cybersecurity makes FTP's security model a bit unsettling. FTP transports data in plain text, including login credentials, making it vulnerable to data interception and eavesdropping. Additionally, hackers who are looking to exploit weaknesses often target FTP sites.

Secure FTP variants, such as FTPS (FTP Secure) and SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol), have been created to overcome these problems. While SFTP uses the secure shell protocol (SSH) to establish an encrypted channel for file transfer, FTPS extends the FTP protocol with an additional layer of encryption using SSL/TLS.

These safe substitutes use powerful encryption and authentication technologies that guarantee the secrecy and integrity of data while it’s being transmitted between users.

With new and improved hacking and cyber threats, one thing to consider is a proper ASM plan - knowing vulnerabilities (such as flaws in FTP) you secure and protect your files.

FTP's Continued Relevance

You may wonder just how important FTP is, in an age where cloud storage and online file sharing services are so common. Unexpectedly, FTP is still essential in an array of situations:

  • Legacy Systems: Many businesses still use antiquated software, which might not be able to handle modern file transfer technologies. In order to enable data sharing in varied environments, FTP thus acts as a bridge between old and new technologies.

  • Automation and batch processing: When transferring data on a regular basis, FTP is typically included into batch scripts and automated operations. As a result, it's an important tool for companies that need to schedule transfers or constantly sync data.

  • Efficiency and control: FTP offers, for some users, a level of control and efficiency that wouldn't necessarily be possible with cloud-based solutions, especially those working with huge amounts of data. FTP enables exact control over bandwidth allocation and transmission settings.

  • Private networks: FTP can be a trustworthy and easy way to share files whenever the Internet is not involved, as when you transfer data within a private local network.

An oldie but a goodie

While FTP may be viewed as an antiquated technology in certain industries, its influence on modern networking and data transfer shouldn't be understated. It paved the way for the creation of more complex and secure file transmission protocols, and many situations still benefit from its simplicity and adaptability.

When it comes to automating workflows or ensuring seamless data transfers in older systems, FTP is a dependable and important technology in the rapidly evolving world of digital communication.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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