Network Administration: FTP Basics

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is the basic method for exchanging files over the Internet. The first versions of FTP date to the early 1970s, and even the current FTP standard (RFC 959) dates to 1985. You can use FTP with the command line FTP client (which has a decidedly 1980s feel to it), or you can access FTP sites with most modern web browsers if you prefer a graphic interface.

In spite of its age, FTP is still commonly used on the Internet. For example, InterNIC (the organization that manages Internet names) maintains an FTP site at There, you can download important files, such as named.root, which provides the current location of the Internet’s root name servers.

Many other companies maintain FTP sites from which you can download software, device drivers, documentation, reports, and so on. FTP is also one of the most common ways to publish HTML files to a web server. Because FTP is still so widely used, it pays to know how to use it from both the command line and from a browser.

In the Windows world, an FTP server is integrated with the Microsoft web server, Internet Information Services (IIS). As a result, you can manage FTP from the IIS management console along with other IIS features. Note that the FTP component is an optional part of IIS, so you may need to install it separately if you opted to not include it when you first installed IIS.

On Unix and Linux systems, FTP isn’t usually integrated with a web server. Instead, the FTP server is installed as a separate program. You’re usually given the option to install FTP when you install the operating system. If you choose not to, you can always install it later.

When you run an FTP server, you expose a portion of your file system to the outside world. As a result, you need to be careful about how you set up your FTP server so that you don’t accidentally allow hackers access to the bowels of your file server. Fortunately, the default configuration of FTP is pretty secure. You shouldn’t tinker much with the default configuration unless you know what you’re doing.