DEFINITION of 'FTP (File Transfer Protocol)'

A mechanism for the transfer of files between systems. File Transfer Protocol, commonly referred to as FTP, is a client-server protocol that allows the transfer of entire files. Users typically access files this way through FTP client software. FTP uses Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to transfer files from one location to another.

BREAKING DOWN 'FTP (File Transfer Protocol)'

One of the fundamental reasons for the creation of the Internet was to allow users to share and gain access to information. Doing this required the development of a medium to transfer files between computers found in different locations – possibly across the world. FTP was developed as a protocol to allow files to be transferred between systems that may use different file storage methods, using a common set of instructions while also providing secure access. The first proposal for a way to transmit files came about in 1971.

Transferring a file using FTP requires a data connection through which the file will be transferred, a command connection that provides commands and responses. The command connection is made first, and provides instructions for the type of data transfer. Once this connection is made a data connection is then made. No data transfer is made through the command connection.

A user opens an FTP client software and establishes a connection with the desired file system. This requires authentication – typically a username and password – though an unsecure connection could be used in some scenarios. As long as the user is active the connection between the client and server will remain open, but inactivity can cause this to close and the session to end.

Sending a small file in an email as an attachment can work in many situations, but for large files this can be a painful process. FTP has made it easier for individuals and businesses to transfer files between different locations.

A lighter version of FTP, Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP), is used by some services in order to transfer simpler file types between networks. FTP is considerably larger and more complex than TFTP.

 

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