File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a standard network protocol used to exchange and manipulate files over a TCP/IP based network, such as the Internet. FTP is built on a client-server architecture and utilizes separate control and data connections between the client and server applications. Client applications were originally interactive command-line tools with a standardized command syntax, but graphical user interfaces have been developed for all desktop operating systems in use today. FTP is also often used as an application component to automatically transfer files for program internal functions. FTP can be used with user-based password authentication or with anonymous user access. The Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) is a similar, but simplified, not interoperable, and unauthenticated version of FTP.
The objective of FTP, as outlined by its RFC, are:
- To promote sharing of files (computer programs and/or data).
- To encourage indirect or implicit use of remote computers.
- To shield a user from variations in file storage systems among different hosts.
- To transfer data reliably, and efficiently.
FTP runs over the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). Usually FTP servers listen on the well-known port number 21 (IANA-reserved) for incoming connections from clients. A connection to this port from the FTP client forms the control stream on which commands are passed to the FTP server and responses are collected. FTP uses out-of-band control; it opens dedicated data connections on other port numbers. The parameters for the data streams depend on the specifically requested transport mode. Data connections usually use port number 20.
In active mode, the FTP client opens a dynamic port, sends the FTP server the dynamic port number on which it is listening over the control stream and waits for a connection from the FTP server. When the FTP server initiates the data connection to the FTP client it binds the source port to port 20 on the FTP server.
In order to use active mode, the client sends a PORT command, with the IP and port as argument. The format for the IP and port is "h1,h2,h3,h4,p1,p2". Each field is a decimal representation of 8 bits of the host IP, followed by the chosen data port. For example, a client with an IP of 192.168.0.1, listening on port 49154 for the data connection will send the command "PORT 192,168,0,1,192,2". The port fields should be interpreted as p1?256 + p2 = port, or, in this example, 192?256 + 2 = 49154.
In passive mode, the FTP server opens a dynamic port, sends the FTP client the server's IP address to connect to and the port on which it is listening (a 16-bit value broken into a high and low byte, as explained above) over the control stream and waits for a connection from the FTP client. In this case, the FTP client binds the source port of the connection to a dynamic port.
To use passive mode, the client sends the PASV command to which the server would reply with something similar to "227 Entering Passive Mode (127,0,0,1,192,52)". The syntax of the IP address and port are the same as for the argument to the PORT command.
In extended passive mode, the FTP server operates exactly the same as passive mode, however it only transmits the port number (not broken into high and low bytes) and the client is to assume that it connects to the same IP address that was originally connected to. Extended passive mode was added by RFC 2428 in September 1998.
While data is being transferred via the data stream, the control stream sits idle. This can cause problems with large data transfers through firewalls which time out sessions after lengthy periods of idleness. While the file may well be successfully transferred, the control session can be disconnected by the firewall, causing an error to be generated.
The FTP protocol supports resuming of interrupted downloads using the REST command. The client passes the number of bytes it has already received as argument to the REST command and restarts the transfer. In some commandline clients for example, there is an often-ignored but valuable command, "reget" (meaning "get again"), that will cause an interrupted "get" command to be continued, hopefully to completion, after a communications interruption.
Resuming uploads is not as easy. Although the FTP protocol supports the APPE command to append data to a file on the server, the client does not know the exact position at which a transfer got interrupted. It has to obtain the size of the file some other way, for example over a directory listing or using the SIZE command.
In ASCII mode (see below), resuming transfers can be troublesome if client and server use different end of line characters.