My neighbour, a professional photographer, knocked on my door the other day, with a data-transmission problem. He'd just bought a fabulously expensive 22Mp Leaf back for his camera and the resulting image files were causing him a huge headache.
At 20MB for a high-resolution jpeg or 80MB for a Tiff, delivering snaps to clients was starting to be a problem, even with broadband. A client suggested he consider using FTP (File Transfer Protocol). FTP has its advantages. People can download files from you when you're not at your PC; it's faster than using e-mail or IM (instant messaging) and you can resume broken downloads. You can control access with a password system, too, although this is still not very secure.
My neighbour has a number of options. He could rent some storage space at his ISP, probably over and above the usual "free Web space". This would incur a monthly charge and he'd have to upload the files to the FTP site before they could be downloaded, which could take some time.
A compromise is to run your own server. The software is free and, because you cut out the slow upload phase, it's faster. A command-line FTP client comes with XP, or you can download free FTP clients such as FileZilla (http://filezilla.sourceforge.net; see "FTP for free with Filezilla" for more) and CoreFTP (www.coreftp.com). You can even use a Web browser such as Internet Explorer or Firefox.
Setting up an FTP server is simple and it can run from your existing PC. If you have XP Professional or Windows 2000, the FTP server software is included as part of IIS. You need only to install it.
There is a 10-user limit and a max file size of 2GB on 'non-Server' editions of Windows. For those using XP Home or earlier versions, Serv-U 6.3 (www.servu.com), a third-party FTP server is available. It's free for personal use.
Set up an FTP site
- First you need to install IIS (Internet Information Services, Microsoft's Web server). Click Start-Control Panel-Add/Remove programs. Then choose the Add/Remove Windows components button from the bar on the left, select "Internet information Services (IIS)" and click Details.
- If you tick "File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Service", "Common Files" and the "Internet Information Services Snap-In" are automatically selected. Click OK and, unless XP was installed from a partition on your hard disk, make sure you have the XP installation disc handy. When inserted, the files will be copied across.
- Once IIS has been installed, an FTP site is created for "c:\inetpub\ftproot". It's important to configure your site promptly. Open Control Panel-Administrative Tools-IIS. Expand "(local computer)" and "FTP sites" until you have "default FTP site" in the left-hand pane. Right-click on your site and select Properties.
- The FTP site properties are controlled by a tabbed dialogue box. The FTP site tab allows you to rename the site, change the TCP/IP port through which users connect, set connection and logging information and see who is currently connected to your site. If you want to keep tabs on your FTP site, enable the logging option.
- The Security Accounts tab controls whether anonymous users are allowed access. By default anyone can access your site without a username or password. IIS uses a built-in user account with a defined set of restrictions to authenticate anyone who connects. But, even with passwords, FTP is still not very secure.
- The IUSR_(computername) account is created when IIS is installed. It is used to allow access to sites you may publish and confines users to the IIS portions of your system. Click Messages to specify greetings banners and so forth. Click Home Directory to choose which folder is to act as your FTP site.
- FTP usually uses TCP/IP port 21, which most firewalls block. To unblock this port click Start-Control Panel-Network Connections. Right-click your Internet connection and select Properties-Advanced-Settings to configure the firewall. On the Services tab, tick the box next to FTP Server. Click OK.
- If you use a router you will need to forward port 21 traffic from the router to the PC in question. If your router has an IP address of 192.168.0.1 and your FTP PC is 192.168.0.10 you need to set up an entry in your router to forward port 21 traffic from 192.168.0.1 to 192.168.0.10. Methods vary - this is a Netgear screen.
- FTP is notoriously insecure. The username and password aren't encrypted and are easy prey. The Windows FTP server software recommends you use only anonymous access for your FTP site and don't place sensitive files there. Or you can stop the FTP server and start it only when someone needs access.
- There are alternative methods of securing FTP transactions. Generally these involve using SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or other encryption methods to encrypt the plain FTP information, creating a secure channel between the client and server. Setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a good idea.
- A remote user can access your FTP site by opening Internet Explorer and putting ftp:// (not http://) before the URL of your site. If anonymous access is supported, users merely have to enter an e-mail address as a password. If anonymous access is disabled you'll have to enter your username as the address.
- Once connected, you're presented with a directory window of the FTP site's contents, which you can manipulate as if it was a directory on your local computer. You can open files, copy and paste into your other directories and copy from your computer to the FTP site, but only if you have express permission.
- Other versions of Windows don't feature a free FTP server. However, there are a number of free third-party FTP servers available, such as Golden FTP Server (www.goldenftpserver.com), Cerberus FTP Server (www.cerberusftp.com) and the open-source FTP server, Filezilla Server (http://sourceforge.net/projects/filezilla).
- For serious FTP, it's probably best to use a dedicated FTP client. There are plenty to choose from and a number of good free FTP clients. Here I'm using the Open Source Filezilla, a free download from the SourceForge Web site, to upload Web content to a Web site. It uses the familiar two-pane Explorer layout.