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Using FTP

File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, is a fancy way of saying “send files to a different computer,” like when you upload files to your web host.

Sending files by FTP is one of the most common geek-ish things you can do. It’s required for many CMSes, including the Grawlix CMS. Good news is, modern programs make it reasonably easy to do. Understanding what’s up is a useful skill, and we want to make this easy. So here’s the lowdown on downloads.

In a hurry? Learn about FTP in under two minutes:

Got some more time? Then let’s get to it.

FTP is the act of copying files from one computer to another. It could be between almost any computer — many support FTP. But for website purposes, we mean sending files between your personal computer and the web server on which your Grawlix-based website resides. Uploading files means “copying them from your computer to a different computer.” Downloading is the opposite: “getting copies of files onto your computer from somewhere else.”

Up or down, you can transfer any kind of file you have permission to access — even the ones you can’t see.

Animation showing how to upload files via FTP

Above: Uploading files is usually as simple as dragging files from your computer (left) to a web host (right).

Invisible files

FTP tools make it possible to see so-called “invisible” files: those that your Mac or Windows OS won’t show in their respective Finder and Explorer. These files are hidden from common users because they’re not something that common users need to deal with.

But websites are neither common nor users. So here’s how they work: Invisible files’ names begin with a dot. As in “.htaccess”. Yep, add a period to the start of a filename and most operating systems won’t show them. So what?

A particular invisible file — .htaccess — is required to run the Grawlix CMS. But you can’t see it. If your Grawlix CMS installation came with a file called “htaccess.txt”, then drop the “.txt” (including the dot) and put a dot at the beginning of its name. “htaccess.txt” becomes “.htaccess” when you upload it to your web host.

FTP programs

Lots of programs will let you send files to remote servers. Some are free. Some have lots of features. A few of the popular ones include Fetch, Filezilla, Transmit and WinFTP.

Which is “best” is a matter of opinion. You can’t go wrong with something that will let you transfer files and set file permissions. Bonus points if it lets you rename files on the server.

Wrap-up

In review:

  • FTP is the process of copying files between remote computers.
  • FTP programs allow you to see “invisible” files, or those whose file names begin with a dot.
  • You need a FTP program that will let you transfer files and set file permissions, which most do.