For those of you that have been around the block a few times when it comes to computers, you must surely recall the days when everything was text-command based. Even after the world of computers gravitated away from VAX or IBM mainframe-centric computing, we still had DOS for a long time. However, even after the advent of Windows, and its many iterations through the years, one of the core functions of that and other operating systems – remote file transfers – remained a largely text-based operation.
After using “GET” and “PUT” commands for so many years, it seemed a bit awkward to start using point-and-click FTP file transfer clients, which offered the promise of never having to type another FTP command again. While the idea felt pretty exciting, I constantly found that those FTP tools were lacking. I guess it’s sort of like how a person that drove a car with a standard stick-shift for years has such a hard time graduating to an automatic. It doesn’t feel like an upgrade. It feels like you have less control, and therefore much less power over what’s going on.
Mark covered the FTP file transfer client FileZilla in 2007, and noted some problems that a large number of FTP clients had hiccups when it came to large file transfers. The apps experienced the usual timeouts that you would expect when the computer sits there for 15 to 30 minutes, transferring massive files. More recently, noticing so many positive reviews around the web for FileZila, I decided to take a closer look at what the latest iteration of the software had to offer. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.
FileZilla is the King of File Transfers
I liked FileZilla a lot when I tried it years ago, but as Mark pointed out in his review, there were glitches when it came to connections. Testing it more recently, I was pretty impressed with how robust the system is and how easy it is to set up different remote FTP accounts for quick connections later on. I also liked the speed and simplicity of doing file downloads and uploads, and most importantly I really like the interface itself.
Uploading and Downloading Files
So, let’s dig right into the latest version of FileZilla, and for starters, here’s what the latest interface looks like.
Sorry for the long picture – but I wanted to show all of the elements on the main screen. You have got host connection details at the top, and connection status updates below that. Then you have left and right panes for your local and remote sites. If you are just uploading a single file from your C: drive, calling your local machine a “local site” seems strange, but if you consider that such FTP clients are primarily used by web designers to upload local development websites to the active remote servers, this terminology makes perfect sense.
For most standard FTP accounts, you really won’t have to mess around with port settings because you’ll be connecting to the standard FTP port 21, which FileZilla defaults to when you do a “QuickConnect”. Just type in the remote FTP address, your user name and password, and click on “QuickConnect”.
You’ll see the FTP status window scrolling a series of command/response updates. You can see all of the commands that you used to type by hand scrolling by in seconds – clearly saving a whole lot of time over doing these FTP commands manually.
Once a connection is established, FileZilla performs a remote directory listing, and both your local directory and remote directories are displayed in the two panels below. If you’re connecting to a remote web host, you’ll be able to click on the public_html or public folder to get to where your website is hosted.
Some of the biggest differences from the older versions are robust connectivity and ease-of-use. Transferring files back and forth is just ridiculously easy. Open a remote folder, and then right click on a local file (or entire folder!) and select “Upload” to send all of those files to the remote directory. Watching a mass upload of an entire directory’s contents will make anyone that has done those transfers by hand smile. FileZilla accomplishes a dizzying stream of quick commands in seconds what a person would have required up to 15 to 20 minutes to accomplish. Really, the only thing that slows down FileZilla is your bandwidth and the time it takes for each file transfer.
Open a local folder in the left pane, and then right click on a remote file (or an entire folder!) and select “Download” to transfer all of those files to the selected local folder. Again, the download is fast and completely automated for multiple files when you choose a folder.
So, that’s the core purpose of FileZilla in a nutshell, and during my testing I noticed long file transfers that would have caused connection issues years ago took place without any problems. Of course, the value of FileZilla comes from the bells and whistles – a few added features that make it really convenient to use as your only FTP client.
FileZilla Extra Features
One of the favorite features is the ability to search entire directories and sub-directories on a remote server using different filtering methods. I can’t tell you how often I recall editing a .css or .php file in some directory on my site, but can’t remember the exact name of the directory or the file. I remember part of the file, or the extension and main folder, but with everything else on my mind these days, the name of the file slipped through the cracks.
With file search, you can choose a higher level directory, add multiple criteria for your search, and FileZilla will do the rest of the work, all through the normal FTP protocol commands. Pretty slick.
Of course, if you’re so old school that you still want the ability to type in your own FTP commands, FileZilla gives you that option. Under the Server menu item, click on “Enter custom command…”
The raw FTP command will issue the command at the directory level that you selected prior to opening up this dialog box.
Issue any command you like and you’ll see it update in the top status window, along with any server response.
Another cool feature is bookmarking. Select a local directory and a remote directory and click on “New Bookmark”.
This basically saves the two directory structures, so by simply clicking on that bookmark, it’ll open up both directories for you. This is really convenient for those times when you have a remote directory on a web server where you are constantly transferring files back and forth between the remote site and your local machine, like image files for example.
When you want to see all of your bookmarks, just go to the Site Manager under the file menu, and you’ll see your bookmarks show up with a star icon under your sites.
Yes, that’s sites – plural. You can set up a long list of FTP accounts with FileZilla, and those different accounts will show up in the dropdown when you click on the site manager icon at the left of the top toolbar.
A few other cool little things you can do with FileZilla is to change the theme of the main screen by going into the settings and choosing from the 7 available ones that are listed there.
You can also perform a quick directory comparison by using the directory comparison icon. If you select both a local and a remote directory before clicking this, you’ll see all of the differences between the two directories. This is a nice way to compare what new files you may have under your local development folder that haven’t been uploaded to the site yet. Yellow shows you which files only exist on one side, red shows you different file sizes and green shows you which files are newer. No color means you have a perfect match on both sides.
As you can see, the folks that develop the FileZilla FTP file transfer client have come a long way through the years. I don’t see the same sort of bugs and connection issues that I noticed when I first tested FileZilla years ago, and when I compare it to the other FTP clients out there, it remains the best one available to date.
Of course, if you want to do something funky like transfer files between your local PC and your Android – you can install FTPDroid on your phone, and start treating your remote phone like a remote FTP site using FileZilla. Cool stuff you can do with FTP, right?
What’s your take on FileZilla? Are you a regular user, or do you prefer a different FTP client over it? Share your own thoughts and views on this or any other FTP client in the comments section below.
Image Credit: ShutterStock