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File Transfer Protocol secrets revealed

October 6, 1999
Web posted at: 10:42 a.m. EDT (1442 GMT)

by Brian Livingston, InfoWorld columnist


(IDG) -- My Aug. 23 column described a command-line program that many Windows users aren't familiar with: ftp. I asked readers for more suggestions and, in this week's column, I report on their results.

Before we begin, I should note that some readers took me to task for calling ftp a "Windows command," since it's a long-standing Unix feature. I did write, "It's a command of Unix origin," but this was cut for space.
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My main point was that ftp doesn't appear in the Windows 98 Help file -- and even if you do find the command, the standard /? switch doesn't get you any documentation. You must type ftp -? (notice the hyphen, a Unix convention) to learn the proper syntax. You can also consult the Windows NT or Windows 2000 help files, or look up ftp in one of Microsoft's Windows Resource Kits.

Despite its long history, ftp remains poorly documented and little-known to many Windows users who could benefit from its capabilities. I'd like to thank the many readers who sent me tips on how they use it.

"I recently completed the installation of an online shopping system for our Web site that runs off a text database," writes Keith Royster. "I've automated the export of the database using Access macros, but wasn't sure how to automate the FTP process without investing in extra software. Your FTP article has saved me a good bit of time and money."

L. Hansen says, "We create a text file on a PC on the LAN. We ftp it to the print queue of the mainframe and it prints automatically, with routing pages and all."

Third-party software improves on the basic nature of Windows' ftp. James Henderson writes, "I have always loved FTP, especially when a program like WS_FTP LE [Limited Edition] is around to take out all of the guess work." Go to, then click "Download Evaluations" and select WS_FTP LE to get the free version for individuals. The commercial version, WS_FTP Pro, is $37.50.

Amin Ismail, a university PC user, writes, "We use the excellent FTP Scheduler program by Praxis Software to automate the process of FTP-ing our real-time weather data from our weather station to our site."

Neal Bratschun reports, "We finally found Mabry Tools, which give a programmable interface to ftp from Visual Basic, C, etc."

Peter Sun recommends wget, freeware from GNU (GNU's, not Unix). "My modem line drops the connection every so often. Wget is smart enough to continue retrieving where it left off when the connection is lost."

Michael Klein of Forty Software offers his company's free Download Wonder utility. This product handles both FTP and HTTP sites and has many other features.

Brian Livingston's latest book is More Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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Little-known Windows file transfer commands can make your Net updates a lot smoother
(InfoWorld Electric) Aug. 23, 1999 column
FTP, naturally
(PC World Online)
How to download WS_FTP Pro
(PC World Online)
Secure FTP from hackers
(Network World Fusion)
LapLink puts FTP in reach
(PC World Online)
WS_FTP Pro 6.0 gets a minor upgrade
(PC World Online)
How to download AbsoluteFTP
(PC World Online)
Review: F-Secure protects Unix traffic
(InfoWorld Electric)
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GNU's wget
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