Technology Tips: FTP

Dan Comden, Adaptive Technology Specialist

The steps to transferring files from one computer to another are easy once you have the correct tools and know how to use them. The term we use for moving files around on the Internet is FTP - File Transfer Protocol.

Regardless of whether you're using a Macintosh or a PC, speech output or switches, or even what kind of Internet connection you have, the steps are the same. Only the tools may change. You can use FTP to transfer your own files on your password-protected account, or at FTP sites using "anonymous" FTP. Most Web browsers are capable of doing anonymous FTP.

Anonymous FTP allows easy sharing of files without giving away passwords. Though this feature means that many people don't have to learn the ins and outs of FTP, if you're transferring files from your home computer to your Internet account you'll need to know a bit more. I'll use an account on DO-IT's computer named hawking for the example at the end of this article.

In a nutshell, here are the steps for FTP, followed by more detailed descriptions.


  1. Start your computer.
  2. Launch your FTP software.
  3. Change to the directory you want to move the file from (the local side) and where you want to move the file to - the remote system.
  4. Choose the correct file transfer mode - binary or ascii.
  5. Transfer the file.


  1. Most times, you'll want to get a file from a remote system and transfer it to your computer. There are many reasons you might want to do this. For example, you can update your system software with new versions of video drivers, sound drivers, or even update the basic operating system. You can also obtain programs such as utilities to better manage your computer or detect viruses, as well as games or productivity software.
  2. There are many different FTP programs (also called FTP clients) available. On the Windows/PC side the most common are WS_FTP or CUTE-FTP. Windows95 also has an FTP client that runs in DOS, called simply FTP and run from the DOS command line. For Mac users, by far the most common FTP client is Fetch. Unless you're transferring files to/from your personal account, you'll use a protocol called anonymous FTP. When visiting FTP repositories, you will use a login name of "anonymous" and your email address as your password. When connecting to your own account to move files, you'll need to log in with your usual username and password. I'll be using anonymous FTP in the example below.
  3. In order to use FTP effectively, it's important to have a good understanding of directory or folder structure. Without going into too much detail, you need to know where you want to be on your local computer (the one in front of you) as well as on the remote system. When using WS_FTP, you PC users (once you're connected) can click up and down in the directory structure to indicate where you want to transfer a file from, or where you want it to be received. I personally like to have a folder called "Temp" or "Unpack" on my desktop for receiving files. The directory name for an Unpack folder on the desktop would be C:\WINDOWS\DESKTOP\UNPACK\.

    Mac users with Fetch can indicate the proper folder for upload or download once they've clicked on either the "Get File" or "Put File" buttons. The dialog box for saving files is just like any other Mac Save dialog box.

  4. There are two types of file transfer - binary and ascii. Binary mode is used for anything that's a program or executable files, graphics, and word processor-created documents. Ascii mode is used for generic text files and HTML files. Most of the time you'll need to indicate binary (or raw data for you Mac users) but keep in mind the difference if something you've downloaded doesn't work correctly and try the other mode.
  5. Transferring a file is the easiest step of all. On either the Mac or PC platform, it's usually a simple matter of clicking or double-clicking a file once you have the local and remote directories set up correctly.

The example that follows demonstrates the process of downloading a simple text file.


Let's download a copy of these instructions for using FTP. We'll be using the University of Washington's anonymous FTP server to do this.

  1. Connect to the Internet (those of you already on campus won't need to worry about this step).
  2. Start your FTP software, using the FTP client on your home computer to do this. You can quit the telnet session you started if you want, but it's not necessary. PC users on Windows95 can go to the Programs->Winsock Applications group to launch WS_FTP if it's not already on the Start menu.

    Those using speech output may find it easier to open an MS-DOS box, switch to the desktop directory (C:/WINDOWS/DESKTOP) and use the FTP client for DOS as it's much friendlier to speech output. Mac users will need to find and start Fetch.

  3. Open a connection to the UW FTP server:
  4. Log in to the server with the username anonymous and your email address for the password.
  5. Now you need to make sure the destination, or local directory is correctly selected.

    WS_FTP users will have a two-windowed view. Your local machine is on the left and the remote is on the right. Click up and down in the left window folder list to choose the destination for the file. I like


    Speech users under Windows95 should change directories to


    Mac users will pick the destination once they do the next step. You'll probably want to put it on your desktop so it's easy to find.

    Now switch to the directory that has the file. If you're using the DOS text version, use the cd (change directory) command and ls (list directory) commands to see where you are on the server. If you're using WS_FTP or Fetch, you'll need to go a number of levels, or directories, to get there. Starting at the top level, change folders to pub, then user-supported, then danc. The complete path is pub/user-supported/danc/

  6. You're ready to download the file to your local machine. You should know which directory you're in if you're using the text version (it'll be part of the prompt) otherwise, the graphical clients will let you know when you download. Once you're in the correct location on the remote system for getting the file, do an "ls" command to see what's in the directory - the file name for this file is "ftpinstructions.txt"

    If you're using the text version, Type: ascii and hit return to ensure ascii mode transfer will be enabled. When you did the "ls" command you should see a list of files and directories. If you're using WS_FTP, click on the "ASCII" button and if you're using Fetch make sure the Text button is selected.

  7. You may also want to download a picture of the 1996 Phase 1 Scholars. When you did the "ls" command to view the files in the directory, you should've also seen a file called "phase1.jpg". You'll need to change to "Binary" mode to download this file. If you're using text FTP, you'll need to type "binary." If you're using WS_FTP, click on the "Binary" radio button, and Fetch users should select "Raw Data."
  8. Your file should now be transferred. You can quit your FTP software, either by choosing "Exit" or "Quit" from the File menu or by typing "quit" if you're using the DOS-based FTP client, and then "exit" at the C:\ prompt to return to the desktop.
  9. Now you can view the files! The text file should be viewable using a number of editors, including Word, SimpleText, Notepad, etc. The photo can be viewed using your web browser.

Once you've FTP'ed files a few times, it really becomes quite easy. Check your FTP software documentation first if you get stuck, and if you really have problems, shoot me some email and I'll assist. Have fun FTP'ing!