FTP is the most common method of transferring files from one device to another over a network. If you host your own website, you simply can’t get around without a decent FTP client. Every file you upload (often hundreds or thousands of files, in fact) goes through the application. A bad application gets the job done, sure. But a good application makes it pleasant and easy.
FTP is not only for developers. It’s one of the easiest ways to communicate between two computers on a local network as well, and Ryan demonstrated how easy it is to set up your own FTP server. Using an FTP client at the other end eliminates the need for (ever larger) thumb drives or external drives if you want to move data. You can even mount the entire volume of a remote computer and use it almost as if it were plugged in yours.
There are a number of good FTP clients available for Mac OS X, but Transmit might just be top dog.
Panic, the developer of Transmit, is not new to the software scene. They’ve made their mark with other popular applications, generally aimed at web developers as well. Coda is one of the most influential web development applications and StatusBoard is an extensive information hub for the Apple iPad.
In line with their other applications, Transmit is both graphically strong and fully featured. In fact, one of the things you’ll first notice is how complete everything looks, from the website and the application interface to the highly detailed application icon. It’s obvious that Panic is home to a very strong design team and while using the application, it’s easy to get used to a certain level of detail.
Is this relevant? Very. A decent graphical user interface is half the difference between an application that’s frustrating and one that’s a joy to use (the other half is good programming etiquette). Even if you don’t notice these details consciously, they make Transmit fun to use (if there ever was a way to call FTP ‘fun’).
Favourites and New Connections
You’ll notice, in the screenshot above, that Transmit adheres to the standard layout of an FTP application. The application is split in half, with one connection on each side.
When you start the application, you’ll see your connection options on the right hand side. To create only a temporary connection, select one of the other options in the top bar of the connection window. You can choose to connect over FTP, SFTP (learn more about secure file transfer over FTP and SSH), Amazon’s S3 file hosting service or WebDAV.
By default, your favourites are selected. These are the connections you visit repeatedly; the ones you’ll save in your Transmit configuration. You can organise these in several different folders (only one level, though). Otherwise, click the plus “+” button in the lower centre of the screen to add a new permanent connection.
You get the same options here as you would to create a temporary connection. In general, you’ll only need to add the protocol, server address and credentials, but you can also play with the root URL, change the remote path or local path. Add a friendly name and a pretty icon for future access and you’re done. The whole process, start to finish, is very similar to other FTP clients.
If you use key-based SFTP, you usually won’t need to add any credentials, although you might have to enter your user password to access your key while you’re connecting.
Transmit’s file browser looks a lot like Finder. An updated version of Finder, almost. Transmit offers the same viewing modes as you have on your desktop: icons, list, panel and even cover view. Quick Look and search are also available.
When you’re using Transmit, you’re allowed to forget it’s not Finder. In fact, drag and drop in any possible direction works very well. You can organise your computer locally by dragging files between a local Transmit pane and a Finder window, or vice versa. Transferring files from a remote Transmit pane and Finder is also fast and intuitive. The only thing missing now is support for copy-paste file transfers between the two.
You’ll notice one button at the top of the window that is absent in Finder. Sync is one of the more useful features in Transmit to cut down on manual transfers. It allows you to synchronise two folders in one direction. Using either the modification date or the file size as criterium, you can use Sync to transfer a folder’s content and only replace those files that are older or have different file sizes.
After browsing to the right location in Transmit’s two panels, click the Sync button at the top of the window. In the following view, you’ll be able to customise synchronisation options. Best of all, at the bottom is a readable synopsis of what the chosen options entail.
If you only need to move files occasionally or want to keep two folders in sync, your needs will be tended to by the file browser or Sync option respectively. On the other hand, if you need constant access to a remote server, or want other applications to access these files as if they were hosted locally, a better option might be to mount the drive.
You can mount a drive by clicking the little disk icon below one of your favourites. An easier way is to use Transmit’s menu bar application. Click on the little truck in your menu bar and select the drive to mount it.
Your drive will be mounted on your computer, just like your internal partitions. With your drive mounted, you can also browse it using Finder, or access the files on the drive with most local applications.
The biggest forte of Transmission is its robust graphical design. If nothing else, Transmit is a textbook example of good user interface design. Luckily, it’s not just a pretty face. Behind the scenes, Transmit has some serious muscle. Everything you’d expect from an FTP client is here, rounded off with powerful features like synchronisation and easy mounting.
At just over $30, Transmit is by no means a cheap application, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Download: Transmit ($34)
Have you used Transmit? Post your thoughts below. If you have another favourite, we’d love to hear which, and what makes it stand out!