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How to Choose the Right FTP Server

You’ve been running your favorite FTP server software for years, and it works flawlessly. One of the great things about FTP is that it’s a simple protocol that, if implemented correctly, is a file transfer workhorse. The technology isn’t sexy, but it does the job. So what’s the problem with using an FTP server? What’s wrong with FTP?

Some of FTP’s bad press is undeserved, for a number of reasons. First is that good implementations of the protocol are plentiful. Whether you use a drive-mapping FTP client like WebDrive, a more traditional FTP client or even command line FTP, you can easily connect to FTP download sites, manage your website or manage your own file distribution center. If you are asking your partners or customers to connect to files that you host on an FTP server, they can easily connect to you with minimal cost and effort.

Second is that FTP has been around for a long time. The technology is stable and unchanged. Ease of implementation and stability should be big plusses for anyone thinking about storing files on an FTP server.

But what are the downsides?

The biggest limitation of FTP is that it’s not inherently secure. Much of FTP’s bad press has been due to the lack of security. When determining whether or not to use FTP for a given application, it’s important to evaluate the confidentiality of the content. If security is a concern, use FTP over SSL or choose another protocol that has the security built in.

Another issue is that FTP is not a collaborative protocol. While FTP may be fine for one-way transactions, such as simple uploads or downloads, FTP servers are not a good fit for files that will be dynamically updated by multiple users. Here’s the reason why: User 1 downloads a file and adds “hello world” to the end of the file content. There is now a copy on the server and an updated copy on user 1’s PC. At the same time, user 2 downloads the same file and adds “this is a test” to the end of the file content. So there is yet another version of the file on user 2’s PC. When user 1 uploads the file, it overwrites the file on the server, replacing it with the “hello world” version. Now when user 2 uploads the file, it overwrites the “hello world” version with the “this is a test” version. The addition of “hello world” is gone. In collaborative environments, a WebDAV server, or an application that’s based on WebDAV can lock the file on the server, keeping users from inadvertently overwriting a file while another user is editing it.

Good Use Cases for FTP Servers

  • Hosting files that are available for public download such as white papers, product specifications, user manuals, software updates, drivers and other support material.
  • Hosting non-confidential files that are available for internal users with login credentials. HR forms, employee manuals, templates, etc.
  • Backup. It’s relatively easy to backup internal file servers and individual PCs to an FTP server. If some of the content to be backed up is confidential, using FTP over SSL may be recommended.
  • Receiving large batches of files from other systems or applications – again, provided that these are not confidential – is easy and inexpensive to implement with FTP.

FTP servers are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. You can test this theory by downloading and installing the free trial of Titan FTP Server.  The important thing is to use the right tool for the job.

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