Using WS_FTP LE

Once you write your code, it would be nice to get it up on your website, wouldn't it? Geocities, AOL, NBCi all provide some sort of interactive file manager to do this, but they are all slow--I understand the latest one from Geocities takes about five minutes just to load! The way to go if your site host allows it is FTP, and I know that Earthlink, Geocities and NBCi do 'cause I use them all.

FTP is the best way to handle your websites, if your provider gives FTP priviliges (most do.) FTP stands for "File Transfer Protocol" and it actually started in the pre-GUI, pre-browser days; it uses a command language like DOS or the Unix shell. Fortunately with FTP client programs, you need know nothing of that language.

The most commonplace of these in the Windows world now is probably WS_FTP LE, the freeware limited edition of a full-featured client. Earthlink, my current ISP, recommends looking for it here, but if that doesn't work, try Nonags.com, which basically has every great freeware program around. When all else failes, got to the Ipswich site 'cause that's who makes WS_FTP: http://www.ipswitch.com/Products/WS_FTP/

Once you have it downloaded and installed and fire it up, you will see a screen something like this:

The FTP LE Window

There are two panes: one on the left for your computer, and one on the right for your site. There's nothing on the right because you haven't connected yet. The first time it will start up in the directory the program is in, so you'll have to move to the directory you keep the working copy of your site in. If it's on a different drive, go to the bottom of the list and you'll find all the drives listed no matter what directory you happen to be in at the moment.

Session Properties popup

Once you press the "Connect" button, the Session Properties window popups up. This one is already filled out with the information for Geocities, but let's look at how I filled it in.


Startup Settings

Now, let's click the Startup Tab. There are two things I want to put in here: the initial folder at the site, and the initial folder on my computer I want to use for each session under the "My Geocities" profile. I choose "dream" because this is the part of the site I work on the most.

After I finish that, I click "OK" and the session starts. I soon have the remote directory in the right pane. Now I change both to the html directory (or folders--interchangable terms.) And then I click on the "Date" button in both windows to put the newest files at the top. I scroll down the left pane until I see a file called "WS_FTP.LOG." This is a textfile that records the FTP commands for every session. I use it as a flag; everything above it has been added or changed since the last time I updated the site.

In this case, there are five new or changed files. The one I'm working on is "html06.html." There's another HTML file, and three GIF files, the images I've used so far on this page.

Now, there are two buttons and a checkbox below the panes: ASCII, Binary, and Auto. Some people trust Auto but I don't. What these choices are for is how you transfer the files. ASCII should be picked for anything you can read with Notepad: HTML files, .txt files, .css files (style sheets, if you're interested). Pictures (GIFs and JPEGs) and anything Notepad can't read should be sent in the Binary format. ("Binary" is another Unixspeak word. It originally referred to programs, which is why you sometimes see programs stuck in a "bin" directory or subdirectory.) Anyway, the Binary button is already on, so, lazy as I am, I pick out something for binary transfer: the three GIF files. I select them, press the right-pointing arrow and presto! WS_FTP LE copies those files onto my website! Then I do the same thing for "html03.html" which I made some revision to. This file I don't send, because I'm still working on it. Then I press Close to end the session. If you wait too long, BTW, you will be cut off, and it is not good web manners to hang at an FTP site if you are not actually downloading something; you tie up bandwidth uselessly.

Apatt gives some FTP advice in the SM Toolbox, but I think the article is maybe two years old. Still, it's worth a look. Most of his links to help sites still seem to work, too.

One thing you might encounter when trying to use FTP is that you can't change anything on your site. The reason for this is that your service hasn't given you permission to do it. If this happens, bug them mercilessly until they let you in. It took about a week of bitching to get NBCi to open my account to FTP.

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