Using WS FTP to Upload your Website

My favourite FTP client is WS_FTP LE, which is free for certain groups of users – so is well worth checking out if you like free programs or you are short on cash at the moment. Even though the instructions on this page will be specific to this version of WS_FTP, the ideas should be applicable to all FTP clients.

Before you can FTP to a server there are three things that you need to know, otherwise the server is unlikely to let you in or edit any files. You will need to know…

  • The name of the server you are connecting to – this usually starts with “ftp” but could be anything resembling a domain name or IP number.
  • Your user ID – this allows the server to check you have permission to use it
  • Your password – to confirm you are who you say you are

Example of an FTP log-in interface [WS_FTP LE shown]

Logging in to a Server

Above is an example of an FTP log-in interface with my own details filled in that allow me to connect to my file store and access, modify and delete all the files that make up the site.

As you can see from this example, the server I connect to is ftp.tiggys.co.uk and my User ID is tiggynco. Usually your User ID is the name of your folder on the server, but can sometimes be your domain name or something totally different depending on your server settings. Your host will either let you choose your User ID and password at signup or assign them to you, providing you with all the details you need either on the thank you page or in your welcome email.

You may have also noticed the other fields on the form above, while you will have to fill in those that are completed in the example – they are not as important as the server name itself. The profile name is only an account identifier and can be anything you like, as it is only to help you find your saved settings easily if you have more than one FTP account. I tend to name my FTP accounts with either the site name, the host name or some combination of both.

The host type is another drop down menu that lists all-sorts of various server types, and if you know the machine that your site is hosted on then you should be able to select it here. If you don’t have any idea, then don’t worry – WS_FTP LE can be set up to automatically detect the operating system of your host, just select the “Automatic Detect” option in this drop down menu.

Anyway – once you have filled out your details, click the apply button (to save them) then click on OK and WS_FTP LE will attempt to connect to the server. Providing you have the correct details and the permission to use the server, you will see a split screen with files and folders on your computer showing up on the left, and the files and folders that are in your personal web space on the right. If you’ve gotten this far, you will be able to upload and download from your site.

The Remote Server

So, you’ve successfully logged into your web space – now what? Well, exactly what you do next will depend on the configuration for the server you are logging into. Uploading your files into the wrong directory could mean that people can’t see your page, so if the first time you log in you can see a number of different folders, the chances are that not all of them will be accessible from the web. If you don’t see any other folders on the right hand side of your screen when you first log into your accounts then the chances are you can upload directly into that directory and have all the files and folders you upload accessible from the web.

Here are a few of the more common folders that you may see in your web space, along with a very quick explanation of what usually goes in there.

  • htdocs – this is where your web accessible files should go
  • cgi-bin – for scripts and other CGI applications. How you use this folder depends on how the server is set up, for example, you may only be allowed to upload Perl files in there and have to upload your images and HTML files for a script somewhere else. On a windows system you may be able to upload your CGI files anywhere and still have them work, but you should find out more about the use of this folder in particular reference to your host if you intend to use your own CGI programs.
  • private – useful for storing files you don’t want people visiting your site to see. May be used for storing the databases for your CGI files (so that the only way that a user can look at the data in the database is using a script) – however this will depend on the configuration of the server.
  • logs – if you see this folder you should not upload to it although you may be allowed to use it to create logs if you have a script that logs your site. You may find that your host keeps your most recent web site logs in there – but this is not always the case.

Transferring Files between Computers

Once you have found out where to put the files you have created you are ready to upload your files. Luckily most of the FTP clients available have adopted a drag and drop interface, you have one section (or sometimes even a whole window) for your computer, and another for the remote and you just search for your files in the normal way and then drag and drop. This will work both ways, so if you want to upload a file, you drag it from your files and drop it into the remote servers files – and vice versa. Some FTP clients also have buttons that you can use to transfer highlighted files from one place to another, in the case of WS_FTP LE there are to arrow buttons in between the two file windows. You may find it easier to highlight all the files you want uploaded/downloaded and use these buttons rather than dragging and dropping each individual file.

When transferring files from one computer to another in this way it would be worth noting that you are not moving the files as such, but rather making a copy of them on the other computer. If you want to delete or rename files on either side of the connection, then you should be able to do this using your FTP client.

File Types

The mode you use to upload your files is not such an important issue when you are just wanting to host a site consisting of just plain old HTML pages. However when you start uploading your own versions of CGI scripts, you will soon realise that the mode you chose to upload your Perl files in makes a big difference. One of the most common errors made by people when installing their scripts is that they uploaded their Perl files in binary mode. As a general rule of thumb files ending in .txt, .cgi or .pl should be transferred in ASCII mode – everything else should be using binary.

Server Time-outs

If the server you are FTPing to is busy, then there may be limits to the number of people logging in at any one time or the amount of time you are allowed to stay logged on without doing any file transfers. This varies widely from server to server, and so you may have to log in again if your server times out on you while you are distracted. Some servers have a very low time-out (approx 2 or 3 mins), while others may have very large or even no time-out set.

If you are using your FTP program to make minor changes to your site while it is online, you may want to take into account the server time-out if it is set, because you can find it very difficult to make changes to your online documents if your on a server with a time-out of about 2 or 3 minutes. In such cases you may want to do all changes to the page on your computer and then upload them rather than risking corrupting the page and losing your online changes.

Article Copyright © 2000-2002 by Rosemarie Wise
The author, Rosemarie Wise, is a self proclaimed “web enthusiast” who set up her site,
Web Site Owner to share her experiences of being a site owner.

About Lata Tokhi

Entrepreneur, Webmaster, Writer and Editor with an Experience of over 10 years in Internet Business.

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