Finding a decent FTP client for Windows
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 28, 2006
The last two weeks, we spent looking at the latest browsers for Windows. And in the past year, we've looked at a variety of e-mail clients and the various instant messaging services that are available.
And while those are by far the three most popular activities online, there is one more frequent task that just about anyone with a Web site has to perform fairly regularly: file transfers.
Far and away the most popular method for transferring files between computers is the File Transfer Protocol, or FTP. There are newer protocols that are supposedly more secure SCP, SSH but none with the universality of FTP.
Given that FTP has been around as a standard since 1971, you'd think finding a solid, reliable and easy-to-use FTP client for Windows would be pretty straightforward.
Thing is, as I found out last week, you'd be wrong.
Built into Windows
There is a built-in FTP function in all current versions of Windows, from NT to XP. From the Start button, you can click Run, then type in "CMD" and hit the Enter key. This brings up your Command shell, which is a DOS-like line command interface.
I actually (and I'm showing my age here) remember how to use FTP within a LCI environment. The problem is, I can't for the life of me figure out how to set my local directory (the LCD command) to any directory within the "My Files" directory on the C drive. Whenever I try to get to a subdirectory, the DOS shell simply replies "set to local directory." Well, no ...
Besides, while I'm geek enough to remember commands like "MPUT" and "BIN," most people (i.e., normal people) want to use their mouse and drag a set of files from their PC's directory to the remote server's directory.
Finding a client
Going back to at least Windows 98, and maybe Windows 95, I'd been using the freeware version of WS-FTP. It was a real workhorse solid, reliable, easy to use.
But a hard-drive crash last year wiped out my Downloads directory which I'd never backed up. And I couldn't find the free version of WS-FTP anywhere.
I remembered using another free FTP client called Cute FTP at one point it's still around (www.cuteftp.com), but is no longer free, costing about $40.
WS-FTP, too, is still around (www.ipswitch.com) and has a 30-day trial version that is free, but costs about $40 after that period is up.
FTP is a basic computing function like browsing the Web or sending e-mail. I just wasn't willing - or least, wasn't yet ready to pay for the privilege of using a simple utility that ought to be available for free. Idealistic or cheap, I'll leave you to decide.
For about six months, I used a pretty good little client called Core FTP (www.coreftp.com). There is a free version for personal use, which I downloaded and was happy with for awhile. Happy with until I began redesigning my Web site, my 500 or so ComputorEdge columns and 1,000 or so CD reviews.
The free version of Core FTP simply closes if you try to transfer too many files at once. Not sure what the limit was, but it was frustrating as all get-out having to restart the program, reconnect to my Web server, and then try guess how many files I could drag over at once without causing the software to puke. I think I was moving 25 at a time. Still, for moving 1,000 .jpg images of CD covers, 25 at a time was not going to be a viable option.
So I was on the hunt again.
A quick Google search (or was it Yahoo? I use them interchangeably since Yahoo's recent search engine upgrade) took me to Freeware Home, where I found a couple dozen FTP clients for Windows to choose from.
Blazeware had a free client for download. It's easy to use, and I thought my search had ended nice and quickly. But if you leave the Blazeware FTP client open, it doesn't seem to know what to do when the FTP server disconnects on its end. I kept having to go into the Windows Task Manager to manually shut it down.
Back to Freeware Home and found a client called FileZilla, a GNU-licensed, completely free FTP client.
It has let me transfer well over 1,000 files at a time, is easy to use, lets you set up and store bookmarks of the FTP servers you visit most often, doesn't hang or puke when disconnected.
In other words, it does what an FTP client should do, and it's a free utility.
I think I'll go back up my downloads directory now ...
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