<firstimage=”http://www.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/freeftp.png” />Most of today’s web hosting provider supply some sort of web-based solution for uploading files. These work well enough for basic purposes, but they tend to have a slow and clunky interface and limited features. Downloading or uploading huge directories of files can be a pain.
That is where a dedicated free FTP client comes in. An FTP client is a program which installs on your computer and can connect to a web server in order to upload and download files. Because the interface is on your local machine it is very responsive. You can upload very large numbers of files quickly.
While there are a few paid FTP programs, most users will be more than satisfied with the free FTP clients available.
Free FTP, by Coffeecup Software, is a good example of why having a great user interface is always important. As will be discussed when reviewing the other two free FTP clients on this list, it seems that those designing interfaces for fairly technical programs assume that their users don’t need an intuitive design. But intuitive design is always more fun to use, and Free FTP’s very simple, straight-forward interface makes it the easiest free FTP client here to jump in and start using if you don’t have any prior experience.
There are no secrets here. If you want connect to a server, you press the server button and enter your details. This rudimentary action needlessly complex in the other FTP clients listed here. If you want to upload or download files, you select them and click upload or download. The files are automatically sent to the folder you have open in the browsing windows.
The excellent interface does come at the expensive of overall functionality. For example, the status of uploads and downloads is not well detailed, which can leave you a bit in the dark when dealing downloading or uploading lots of files. There is also no readily status, as you’ll find with other FTP clients. Connecting to a server simply results in the movement of a progress bar rather than a break-down of what has occurred.
FileZilla is the most popular free FTP client currently available. Despite what the name may suggest, it is of no relation to any Mozilla project. However, its popularity is quite similar – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Filezilla is the Firefox of free FTP clients.
The reason for FileZilla’s success is functionality. FileZilla may be a free client, but it can do just about anything that you’d need. These features aren’t just arcane or complex functions only web gurus will appreciate, either. One feature which everyone can fall in love with is the ability to drag and drop files to your desktop from FileZilla, and vice versa. The other free FTP clients don’t support this. If there is a file on your desktop you want to upload you need to navigate the client to your desktop folder on your hard drive and then upload the file. FileZilla also includes the option to connect to multiple sites with the same client window through the use of tabs.
This isn’t to say that FileZilla is perfect, however. FileZilla’s main problem is the relatively arcane nature of its interface. Consider this screenshot below, for example.
Yes, those icons do handle important parts of the FTP client. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at them. The only icons with obvious purpose are the refresh and stop icons. The rest? Well, you’re going to have to use them to find out.
This is a problem which persists throughout the FileZilla interface. Another strange interface feature is the decision to leave a local site and remote site directory tree menu in the main interface of the program by default. You can turn these off, but their existence gives the program a very cluttered and confusing look at first glance. It would be nice if they were off by default and could be turned on if needed.
So, which is the best?
Between FileZilla and Free FTP, I think the difference comes down to your goals and your level of expertise. I usually use FileZilla, so I was a little surprised at just how much more palatable Free FTP’s interface is. FileZilla could learn a thing or two from Free FTP in this area. If you’re just looking for a free FTP client to help manage a person website, Free FTP is your best choice.
However, there is no denying the functionality of FileZilla. If you’re fairly experienced with the use of FTP clients and you need to manage multiple sites at once, FileZilla is the obvious choice. It is a bit difficult to understand at first, but once you become comfortable with it you’ll find FileZilla’s many features useful.
Which is your favorite FTP client? Tell us in the comments.
Note: Responding to user complaints, we have removed Go FTP which was featured here as the third FTP client on the list.