Using an FTP program can be a very scary thing for someone who is not familiar with what they are used for. I’m here to help you through the scary parts and why it’s not as bad as you might think. The truth is, they can be lifesavers and anyone who owns a website and manages it really should have one.
What exactly is an FTP?
I won’t take you through the technical aspects of what this is but will keep it simple as much as I can.
FTP is an acronym for “file transfer protocol” and relates to the ability to move files from one location to another. For example, let’s say you need to download a file from your web host server where your website is installed, this is normally what you would use to do just that; same goes for uploading files.
Is it Secure?
The quick answer to this is yes, but with also no. Sounds confusing, I know, but hopefully again I can give you I the details that makes it easier to understand.
Normally people will simply connect with FTP without a secure connection; this fine for basic files, but even then, it’s better to have a secure connection when uploading.
I’m sure that makes you feel uneasy, but again, I’m here to take you through the what’s, how’s, and why’s of using FTP.
What FTP Programs Can You Use?
In a previous article, I wrote about a program that I use called WS_FTP Professional; more on this shortly.
So, what does a person use to move files? Luckily, you have several options available to you from free to paid applications that are both popular. There are many other choices, but we will keep to the more common names associated with FTP.
FileZilla is probably the most popular application because it’s free! Who doesn’t like free? In my opinion, when you are trying out which FTP program to use, it doesn’t hurt to give it a test run. The best part is that its free, so if you don’t like it, there is no loss of money.
I’ve personally used it in the past but really was not a fan due to the user interface (UI) being so messy and hard to do things with. However, for the sake of this article, I decided to download it and give it a trial run so I can give you the latest input of my experience with it. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Considering I’m writing about it.
First, let’s look at the screen of FileZilla:
I would think this is a bit intimidating, but if you are already using FileZilla, then you should be good. As for my trial test, I was unable to connect to my host server. Odd because I tried 5 attempts and used the settings I have in my WS_FTP.
This was my first FTP program and used it for a couple of years before I moved over to WS_FTP Pro. If I remember right, it worked very well without any major issues. As soon as the free trial ended, I went for the pro version.
At the time, CuteFTP and WS_FTP were battling it out for top spot…almost like Windows and the MAC. In my humble opinion, WS_FTP still holds top spot for an FTP program. They did have a free version called WS_FTP LE (more on this shortly) which was very good. Unfortunately, this one has been discontinued. Too bad as this is the one free one I would recommend over FileZilla; you might be able to find a download of it somewhere online.
Globalscape, the company behind CuteFTP, still offers a free trial, so I decided to also install this for the purpose of this article so that I can give an updated opinion of what I think of it. I installed it just moments ago and opened it to connect to my web host, but unfortunately it wasn’t connecting. Same situation as it was for the FileZilla. I hate to say it, but my WS_FTP was easily connected. Later today, I will explore the issues and figure out what the problem is for both.
You are probably tired of reading how many times I’ve mentioned this particular program, but for good reason because it has worked perfectly for my specific needs. I move many files every day, so having a quality FTP program is crucial in my line of work. I’ve been using WS_FTP Pro for 8+ years now (as of Oct. 2017) and never had a single problem.
IPSwitch is the company behind WS_FTP Pro and there used to be a free version called WS_FTP Le. Unfortunately, this application has been discontinued and no longer available unless you do some digging around the internet. The good news though is that they do offer a free trial that you can take advantage of.
But to get right to the point as too why I like this one so much, it’s the user interface (UI) being so well designed and organized. Configuring it is also easy and they do have good documentation to guide you through the setup.
Of course, this will be the same for any other program like the ones I’ve mentioned above.
November 2022 update: WinSCP
WinSCP is another free FTP program that is highly customizable and excels at everything you throw at it.
Using an FTP for Your Website and Theme
If you got this far with this article, it means I didn’t bore you yet, so let’s get right into why you need an FTP program. You can also follow up with a previous article about “How to Update your WordPress theme” which should give you an idea about updating themes.
You’ve read everything I’ve talked about so far and wondering why is all this important to me? Simply put, it does at least three things…
- For anyone who gets a theme that does not have 1-click update capability, you will more likely need to use FTP to update a theme.
- If you perform website updates (hopefully you all do on a daily basis), you need a way to download the update files — and do it securely.
- if you are creating a new site or moving a site, guess what, you DEFINITELY need an FTP program. Or use the File Manager from your web hosting.
You get full control over the management of your website files when updating a theme using FTP. You start up your program, log in to where your WordPress website is and begin uploading the new theme files. Once done, your theme is now updated to the latest version.
An FTP for Saving Backups
For website backups, an FTP lets you download your backup files to your computer for safe keeping. One backup plugin that I use is called “Akeeba Backup“. Not found in the plugin directory at wordpress.org, but from the developer’s own website. Originally created just for Joomla!, they decided to make one for WordPress as well. This plugin creates a set of archive files which lets you backup everything (or parts of a website), download them to your computer for safe storage, and then should you need to restore your website, you have your files. NEVER KEEP BACKUP FILES ON YOUR LIVE SERVER!
The gist is that an FTP program is needed to download your backup files and to upload them when needed. This leads into the scenario that should you need to restore or move your website, an FTP program is needed.
Think about this…if anything happened to your website and you have no website backup, you just lost everything. However, if you have a backup and an FTP program, you can upload your site and get back online very quickly.
Long story short, consider getting yourself an FTP program and be prepared to use it at some point in time; everyone eventually will. Try out the programs mentioned in this article and any others that you might have heard about and choose the one that fits your needs and whatever you feel comfortable with.
One IMPORTANT factor when choosing an FTP program…make sure it offers secure connections with at least SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol).