Contribute to the Secret Pens: FTP Help
To learn how to upload your work to the Secret Pens using FTP, read this entire page. Or, if you prefer, follow one of these shortcuts to skip to what you want to know.


What is FTP?

FTP is the method we use to put our completed web pages up onto the Secret Pens. You don't have to know any more than this. If you're willing to trust that it works by magic ;-) skip to the next step.

For those who want to know more: FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. A protocol in computer terms means about the same thing that it does in real life: it's a set of rules and conventions that define a way of communicating. Just as with people, to communicate effectively two computers need to be familiar with the same protocol. There are many different protocols. Here are some examples:

Protocol Often Used for: Client Software Needed: Examples of Clients:
HTTP Web Sites Web Browser Internet Explorer, NetScape
FTP File Transfers FTP Client WS FTP, Internet Neighborhood, CuteFTP
SMTP, POP3, IMAP Email Email Client Eudora, Outlook Express

As you can see, the table also includes columns talking about Clients. A Client is a specialized piece of software that knows how to communicate using a certain protocol. Your personal computer needs to have at least one Client installed for each kind of protocol you hope to use. In this case, you will need an FTP Client.

On the "other end of the conversation", as it were, is a piece of software called an FTP Server which resides on the Secret Pens computer. The FTP Server allows an FTP Client to connect to it for the exchange of files using the FTP protocol.

Once you have used this method to send your files to the Secret Pens, the FTP protocol's job is done. Now your audience will use Web Browsers (HTTP clients) to connect to a Web Server (HTTP Server) and get at your files using the HTTP protocol.


Where can I get an FTP Client?

The first thing to do is check and make sure you don't already own one. Many versions of Windows come with either a DOS or a Windows FTP client or both. Almost every flavor of UNIX and Linux box has an FTP client installed. There are other examples like this, so you might already own one or more FTP Clients without realizing it.

I highly reccommend the DOS clients to those who have easy access to it. If you don't, your best bet is to download something from a freeware or shareware site. You can also purchase a commercial one if you like; they are not particularly expensive ($20-30).

Wikipedia has a good page comparing different FTP client software.


I need help learning my FTP Client.

Every client is different, and it will be necessary to read your client's instructions to learn how to use it. However, here is a general overview of how an FTP transaction works. It may be helpful in interpreting your own client's help menus.

1) While connected to the Internet, run your FTP client.

2) Now you want to connect to the server, ftp.secretpens.org. Some clients require you to set up a small profile or account for each server, and they remember everything the next time you use it. Other clients expect you to simply type in the server's name every time. At any rate, you will first have to enter the server's name, and then tell the FTP client to attempt to connect to it.

3) Upon connecting to the server, you will be asked for your password and username. The clients that make you set up a profile or account for the server will probably also remember your username and password if you want them to. Otherwise, type it in manually. Passwords and usernames are case-sensitive on most UNIX type systems, including this one.

4) Because the Pens is behind a firewall, you'll want to set your FTP client to what is called "passive mode" before trying to do anything like upload files. Some clients will figure this out automatically while others will require you to issue a command after logging in.

5) You will find yourself in your own directory upon login. So, the next step is to upload. Every client will have its own way of doing this. Some have a graphical user interface which allows you to drag and drop files, while others will require browsing for the files or typing in the names manually. Some allow transferring multiple files at one time, while others can only handle them one at a time.

6) If you leave your computer for long, the server may log you off. Simply log back in and continue.

7) Check your work using a web browser. Your files should be visible at http://www.secretpens.org/yourusername/yourfilename.html. If nothing is missing and all the links work, disconnect from the server and close your FTP program. You're done!

Q. Why can't I use Telnet instead?

A. Telnet is a means of connecting to a UNIX shell account via the internet. It gives the user a lot more flexibility than FTP does. However, it is also more of a security risk. To minimize security problems Telnet has been disabled on the Secret Pens machine.

Q. Why can't I use FrontPage (AOLPress, Netscape, etc.) instead?

A. Some people use HTML editors that have built-in uploading features with a simple "Save As" type user interface. Unfortunately, these programs only work with servers that have been specially modified to communicate with them. (See discussion of protocols in What is FTP? above) These modifications are called "extensions". For the most part they are not compatible with each other. To accomodate everybody's HTML editor a lot of extensions would have to be added to garlen. This could theoretically be done, but only during an extensive rebuilding of the system. If you use one editor exclusively and would like extensions for it to be added to make your life easier, drop an email to the editor and it will at least be considered (no promises) during the next major housecleaning. In the meantime, save your web page to your hard drive and use FTP to upload it. You'd have to save a copy for backup purposes, anyway. Right? Right??

Q. My Web browser can do FTP. Can't it?

A. Yes and no. It is possible to access an Anonymous FTP server using some popular Web browsers. The URL in those cases starts with ftp:// rather than http:// to denote the difference in communications method being used. There's no rule that says a piece of software can't know how to "speak" more than one protocol. However, most of the popular browsers can only download (get files) and not upload (put files up on the web). For full FTP functionality, you'll want a real FTP client. See how to get an FTP client above.

Q. What is Anonymous FTP and why is it irrelevant to the Secret Pens?

A. Anonymous FTP is used on some big systems that house a lot of files a lot of people want to get to. The site owners don't care who downloads the files, they just want it to be easy and quick. So, they don't ask for a user name or a password, only the person's email address. Our situation is a little different. Our audience get the files they want (web pages) by visiting the web sites with their Web browsers. There is no need for Anonymous FTP access and not having it makes things easier security-wise. When people do connect by FTP, it's our contributors coming to put stuff on the server. They enter their user name and password and are automatically placed in their own file directory.


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