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Command Line FTP

This document is copyright © 1998 - 2005 by Art Sackett. Feel free to save it, print it, copy it, and distribute it freely, but do not alter it in any way. If I have missed something or made a factual error, please send the particulars to me via email and I will consider making the appropriate revisions.

Although it is the author's belief that the statements contained within this document are true and correct, use of any of this information is at the user's sole risk. The author does not accept liability for any consequences arising from the use or misuse of this information.


FTP is the acronym for File Transfer Protocol, which is a mechanism for moving files from one computer to another in an efficient manner. FTP is generally faster than would be an HTTP transfer of the same data.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that they have to load still more software into their systems in order to use FTP to upload files to their Internet Service Provider's file system -- this is usually not the case. There is a very good chance that if you can reach this document over the internet, you already have the ability to use FTP from the command line of your operating system. If you have a large number of files to transfer, you will probably be better off with an easier to use FTP client -- but if you need to transfer only a few files occasionally, you may wish to save storage resources and use the client that you already have.

This document is intended to provide web authors with the information they will need to move files to and from a remote network, and to perform other simple operations via FTP, and is not an in-depth discussion of the FTP protocol.

First Things First

The first thing to determine before proceeding is whether or not you do, in fact, have a command line FTP client available. From the command line (which may be referred to by some as a "DOS box" or a "DOS window") simply enter the command: ftp -- if you have a command line FTP client, you will be greeted with an FTP prompt that probably looks like this:


This prompt indicates that the FTP client is running and is awaiting your next command.

Now we need to know the name of the Remote Host you will be connecting to in order to execute transactions. In many cases, this is simply ftp.(your isp's domain).com (or .net, or whatever the appropriate top level domain might be). For the remainder of this document, I will refer to that host as If you do not know the name of the remote host to connect to, you should consult with your ISP who should have provided an FAQ document somewhere on their site explaining this. (Not all do -- some seem to prefer that you call them. Maybe their support people are lonely.)

Getting Your Feet Wet

If you're reading this online, and you have already started the FTP client, let's start by diving right in to see what's already in your user directory. The appropriate commands, in sequence, are (using italicized text to indicate approximately the responses you would receive from the remote host):

File Actions

Now that you have seen how easy it is to connect to and interact with the FTP server on the remote host, here are the most needed commands that you will want to use to navigate the file system(s) and manipulate files via FTP (optional arguments are contained within [square brackets], required arguments are contained within (parentheses)):

NOTE: Some clients may not support all of these commands -- the only way to know for sure is to try them.

The above list is not all encompassing -- there are synonyms that I have not included and there may be other commands that you may be able to use that require UNIX knowledge that is not assumed here. (If you happen to be using a UNIX workstation, try the command man ftp for the whole enchilada.) Using the above commands, you can work with one file at a time to accomplish the more common tasks that a web author will need. As stated earlier, if you want to move a large number of files at one time, you would be better served by a more featureful (and probably GUI) client.

I hope that this brief introduction to command-line FTP meets your immediate needs. If you are in need of a more featureful FTP client for your operating system, you might try looking into your favorite Usenet archive, such as DejaNews rather than repeating a very frequently asked question in alt.html. For those stuck using one of those 32-bit micro$oft operating systems, I recommend FTP Explorer which is free for personal use and mimics the native interface of your operating system as closely as possible. Those using a UNIX-like operating system would be well served by FileRunner (which is what I use when I need to deal with more than a few files at one time).

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Last modified: Sun Apr 13 01:09:43 PDT 2008

Service to on Monday, 17-May-2021 13:10:14 GMT.