The transition to mobile devices has more people than ever thinking about ways to access data that isn’t saved internally. Cloud storage may seem like the easy answer, but with security breaches raising valid privacy concerns, there’s reason to want to look elsewhere.
Fortunately it’s not too difficult to take traditional local storage and make it available wirelessly using FTP.
What Is FTP?
FTP stands, simply, for File Transfer Protocol. It’s a basic way to host files in one location and access them from another. You can do so using your desktop’s hard drive, or you can put portable storage to the task (depending on your router). Whichever method you use, this location is your FTP server, which you can then access from other devices using an FTP client. We have a list of clients available for Windows. There’s also one for Mac. Or you can simply connect from a web browser.
These days, many of Android’s most popular third-party file managers come with support for FTP. This means transferring files to and from your phone or tablet doesn’t feel strikingly different from the way you’re already accustomed to moving stuff around. It looks and feels like a basic task, despite how intimidating the acronym FTP may seem. What follows is a list of some of the best clients you can download for Android, in no particular order.
ES File Explorer is a full-featured file manager that is free to download and doesn’t contain ads. This easily earns in a position at the top of this list. If you have no experience using FTP and simply want a file browser that does everything, this is a good place to start.
Naturally, the app defaults to your phone or tablet’s internal memory. To access other devices, you need to look through the sidebar, where you can find FTP tucked away under the Network section. You have the option to connect to a drive using FTP, SFTP, or FTPS. Those latter options add encryption and extra security on top of a basic FTP connection. There’s also WebDAV, which is a story for another day.
In the screenshot above, you can see both the flash drive (T_Drive) and the external hard drive (USB_Storage) that I have plugged into my router. ES File Explorer lets me browse through both.
If you have movies or music on your FTP server that you want to enjoy on your television, ES File Explorer will let you do so using a Chromecast plugin. Personally I think there’s something interesting about casting a file from one device to another while using a third gadget to control them both.
Interestingly, ES File Explorer also supports FTP in the opposite direction. You can turn your Android device into the server, creating a temporary IP address that you can then enter on your PC to transfer files.
Download: ES File Explorer for Android (Free)
Solid Explorer is another powerful file manager for Android that can fulfill just about all of your data management needs. It can access local storage, it can access cloud storage, and yes, it can access FTP.
Just tap the New button, and instead of creating a folder, establish an FTP connection instead.
Alternatively, you can use SFTP, Samba, and WebDAV. Since we’re just talking about the basics here, you’re going to want to go with FTP and enter the same address and login credentials you would enter into any other client. The next thing you know, you’re transferring DRM-free audiobooks from your server to your tablet.
Like ES File Explorer, Solid Explorer can also turn your device into an FTP server. The app will provide you with an address and a username (admin). You just need to create a password to get started.
As you can see from the screenshots, Solid Explorer offers a dual-panel view that makes it easier to move files around. And like ES File Explorer, it comes with a Chromecast plugin.
FX File Explorer is a colorful app that, while not adhering entirely to Google’s design guidelines, is clearly Material Design-inspired. Each page drips color, and every action is accompanied by an animation. More importantly, the homescreen organizes everything into user-focused categories that can actually spare you from digging into the file system if you don’t want to.
This setup makes connecting to FTP pretty simple. Just tap the network icon and enter your information. I found the experience to be the friendliest of the bunch.
FX File Explorer Plus is required to access storage over FTP, but the core app comes with a 7-day free trial. This gives you time to see if the it is a good fit for you before paying for FTP support, which is good, since the previous apps on this list present free ways to do the same things. They actually go further by allowing you to turn your device into a temporary FTP server.
But as I said before, I like the way FX File Explorer looks and feels. It’s easy to figure out, and if the lost functionality isn’t a deal breaker, I would consider it well-worth the $2.99.
How Do You Use FTP?
You could make a case for each of the apps above being bloated, and you could make it pretty strongly. All three try to manage data in whichever possible location they can muster. Maybe you just want a dedicated FTP client. Don’t worry, there are plenty of options.
For a modern one, check out FTP Express (Free | Pro). It will fit right in next to any of your other Lollipop apps. If looks are no concern, there’s AndFTP, FSync, FtpCafe, and numerous others. Android has no shortage of FTP clients.
If you’ve never experimented with FTP before, are you now considering giving it a chance? And if you’re already an experienced file transferring guru, please chime in with your favorite app for the job.