How to Use FTP to Access MacBook Files

FTP is one of the oldest methods for sharing files between computers; however, because it’s part of the TCP/IP protocol suite, it can be used on many different kinds of computers, including those running just about any type of strange and arcane operating system. You can still manage to exchange files regardless of whether you’re using Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, or UNIX.

FTP is a client/server application. This means that two pieces make things tick: the server (which hosts the connection, rather like a file server) and the client (which connects to the server). Mac OS X, thanks to its UNIX foundation, has both an FTP server and client built in.

To use FTP, you need a computer running the FTP server software to give others access to files; then the other computer, or client, can connect to the FTP server. After the connection is made, the client can either send files to the server (uploading) or get files from the server (downloading).

You can use FTP to transfer files with an FTP server by using the command-line interface (CLI); to use the CLI, open a Terminal (or shell) session. To use a Terminal session, click the Launchpad icon in the Dock and click the Utilities group; then click the Terminal icon. (From a Finder window, double-click the Terminal icon in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder.)

When you open a Terminal session, you’re presented with a window that accepts text commands. You’ll see a prompt that consists of your computer’s name and the folder that you’re currently in, followed by your user ID. It’s at this prompt where you type various FTP commands.

After you’re in the Terminal session, you’ll use a series of commands to connect to another computer, move in and out of folders, and transfer files. Following is a list of the basic commands that you need to use FTP as well as a brief description of what each command does.

  • ftp: This command starts the FTP command-line interface session. This is where you type all other FTP commands to do things.

  • open: This command is used to start your connection to another computer. Type this command followed by the IP address of the FTP server that you want to connect to.

  • ls: Use this command to see a listing of all files and folders in the current folder on the FTP server.

  • cd: This command allows you to change the folder that you’re in.

  • lcd: This command acts exactly like cd except that it changes the folder that you’re currently in on your local system, not the FTP server. Use this command to put yourself in the folder on the local drive that you want to transfer files to and from.

  • bin: Type this command to get in binary mode to transfer files that aren’t plain-text files.

  • ascii: This command puts you in ASCII mode for transferring text files.

  • get or mget: To retrieve a single file, use the get command followed by the filename of the file that you want to retrieve. If you want to get multiple files at one time, use the mget command followed by a filename, possibly containing * and/or ? as wildcards.

  • put or mput: To send a single file, use the put command followed by the filename to send a file to the FTP server. To send multiple files, use the mput command followed by a filename, possibly containing * and/or ? as wildcards.

  • quit: Use the quit command to end your FTP session.

To end a Terminal session and exit Terminal at any time, press Command+Q. Terminal prompts you for confirmation if necessary.

Many FTP servers will let you send files only to certain folders. Most of the time this folder is named Upload, Uploads, or something similar.

Using these commands will enable you to exchange files with an FTP server. Here’s an example of how to use these commands within the Terminal window:

  1. Type ftp to get into FTP mode.

  2. Type open <ip address> (where ip address is the server’s network IP address) to open your connection to the FTP server.

  3. At this point, you’re asked for a username and password.

  4. Type lcd <folder> (where folder is a specific folder name) to change into the folder on your local drive that you want files to come to or from.

  5. Type the ls and cd commands to place yourself into the desired folder on the FTP server.

  6. Type the ascii or bin command to set your file transfer mode to ASCII or binary, respectively.

  7. Type the get, mget, put, and mput commands to send or receive the desired files.

  8. Type the quit command to close the connection and exit the FTP session.

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