FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

As alluded to earlier, free web space is not the only source of free software – it is possible to avoid all the pitfalls of trawling through countless numbers of misleading web sites by utilizing what are known as FTP sites. FTP sites are remote computers or servers, which instead of hosting web pages are used to store and distribute files. If a shopping analogy helps to differentiate the two protocols, you can think of FTP sites as wholesale retail outlets as opposed to department stores furnished with elaborate displays of goods. FTP sites allow you to cut to the chase so you can see exactly what is on offer without being distracted or getting lost in awkwardly constructed ‘aisles’. What you see is mostly what you get since it’s far more difficult to trick people using such a limited interface.

In the same way that web sites have an address or an URL, FTP sites also have an address in a similar format. Instead of the usual http:// prefix, however, FTP addresses will usually begin with ftp:// followed by a long list of digits separated by dots, for example ftp://102.432.765.234. Having said that though, the ftp:// prefix is often superfluous to requirements and so can be omitted without interfering with your ability to login to the FTP site. Just to simplify matters; you will probably have discovered by now that typing http://www.website.com into your browser will produce exactly the same results as typing in www.website.com or even just website.com depending on the configuration of your browser. The same is true of FTP sites, however, the way you enter your FTP addresses into your client will all depend on the way in which it is configured. Some clients will accept the lazy versions of FTP addresses, for example 123.456.789 instead of ftp://123.456.789 and yet with other clients you will have to enter the full address before it will be recognised. The latter method is usually necessary if your client is capable of viewing the contents of web sites in addition to FTP sites and so requires you to differentiate between the two, the built-in FTP browsers of Gozilla and Getright for example.

There are, nevertheless, two exceptions to the use of the numbered FTP address format. More professional, permanent FTP sites tend to use subdomains which are mapped to a static IP address, mostly to make it easier for people to remember. For example, to login to your Geocities account you could use the address ftp.geocities.com rather than a series of numbers. Note that in this case the ‘ftp.’ replaces the ftp:// prefix, yet typing in ftp://ftp.geocities.com will also work just as well.

The second exception to the rule is when the remote host you are trying to access is not connected to the internet via a static IP address, but uses an ‘IP masker’ or ‘IP redirector’ such as the services offered by www.dynip.com, www.no-ip.com or www.dhs.org. The advantage with using one of these is that a non-static server (which continuously changes its IP address) can be assigned with a static redirector address such as ‘myftpsite.dynip.com’, which is much easier to remember and can be automatically updated to accommodate the fluctuating digits of the IP address.

It is useful to remember that FTP addresses can be stored as favourites or shortcuts in the same way as web pages. Although these sites can be accessed with the right version of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator it is advisable to use an FTP client (refer to the “tools of the trade” tutorial for my recommendations). To locate some good FTP sites you will need to open an FTP listing site or visit a bulletin board which has an FXP/FTP forum (some of my favourites are listed in the links section). The FTP addresses on these pages will fall into one of three categories – ratio, no ratio (commonly known as ‘pubs’) or banner sites:

~ Ratio sites will require you to upload a pre-determined number of bytes before you can download. This is usually stated next to the address of the particular site and will be in the form 1:3. In this example you will be required to upload 1 byte for every 3 bytes you download. A general rule of thumb is that the greater the ratio, the more the site has to offer, but this is not always the case as some FTP admins are simply greedy cretins who do not understand the term ‘fair exchange’. These sites are best avoided unless you have a fast connection. If you are using a dial-up account and are suddenly disconnected from the net, even though you have uploaded hundreds of megabytes of software, you may find that when you reconnect you are confronted with the error message “insufficient credits, please upload”. This is because the file server you were downloading from has recorded that the data you uploaded came from the IP address 232.544.287.34, for example, whereas now you have reconnected to the FTP site your ISP has assigned you with a new IP address which is recognised by the FTP software as a new user who has not yet uploaded anything. This is a particularly important issue for people who are using a dial-up account with a forced disconnection interval. Refer to the ‘errors’ section of the “next step” tutorial for ways of getting round this problem.

~ No ratio sites obviously do not require you to upload anything in order to leech from the site; in other words they are full of free downloads. These are usually highly oversubscribed and do not stay around forever so get what you can as soon as possible. The best place to find these ‘pubs’ is on FXP/FTP forums, but note that many of these will be private access only (see the bulletin board tutorial for advice on gaining access to these private forums).

~ To access a banner site you are obliged to click on several advertisements (usually between 1 and 5). When you do this you will be whisked away to another site, a message will be sent in the URL of the link to say where the referral originated from and the owner of the FTP site will receive a few pence. Your task now is to locate several keywords on the web page which will make up the username and password of the particular FTP site. The instructions for doing this will be different in each circumstance, but easy to follow guidelines are usually given – you are paying the owner each time you click on a banner so it is in his or her interest to make the instructions clear and concise. Passwords are changed frequently so if you receive an invalid password message just check back at the site where you saw the FTP address and see if the access instructions have changed. Nevertheless, a more reliable method is to access the site using ‘anonymous’ as your username and password, or ‘anonymous’ as your username and your e-mail address as your password. Another very common combination is look:[email protected]… – this will often let you browse the contents of an FTP site without being able to actually download anything. When you have connected to the site a message may pop up which contains the new access instructions, or alternatively there may be a text file which is labeled something similar to “read me to get leech access.txt”. If you click on this file and select the ‘view’ button of your FTP client it will be downloaded to your Windows temp directory and will automatically appear in Notepad for you to read.

There are a number of different means of gaining access to FTP sites. Keep reading and I’ll walk you through each of them in turn. If you are using Gozilla and have the ‘capture all FTP’ option selected, all you have to do to connect to a particular FTP site is click on a parsed link in a web page. Gozilla will automatically open a new browser window allowing you to see what’s on offer. If the address of the FTP site you wish to login to isn’t parsed, however, you will need to highlight the address using your cursor, right click and select ‘copy’ from the pop-up menu. Having completed that task, open Gozilla’s leech window and paste the address from your clipboard into the relevant dialog box using the format: ftp://username:[email protected]:21.

Alternatively, if you are using a stand alone FTP client such as Bullet Proof FTP, you can either enter all the separate parts of the address into the relevant boxes yourself or you can type in the whole thing in a continuous stream, Gozilla style, and let your client split it up for you. Once you have logged into an FTP site you will be greeted by a very plain directory listing not dissimilar to the ones found in Windows Explorer. The usual rules apply; double click on a directory to see what is inside and when you have found what you are looking for, click on the files or folders and select the ‘add’ or ‘add all’ button in Gozilla or simply drag and drop files in Bullet Proof FTP to begin transferring them to your hard drive. If you want to download all the contents of a particular folder don’t select the individual files one by one. Instead use the above methods to select the whole folder before issuing the download command. With these precursors out of the way all that remains to be done is to click the ‘OK’ or the ‘GO’ button, the rest will be taken care of automatically. Now go and put your feet up, make a cup of tea and rest your eyes for a while.