With all the cloud shares and online drives abound, the development of file transfer applications seems to have tapered off into the abyss of yesteryear. Now the focus is on web services that give you a handful of GB and some nifty sync application to install on your workstation. As useful as the cloud is, when you have 13 hour-long MP4s to transfer to a media server for ingestion, or to get to your editor for post-production, the cloud just does not cut it. So let’s talk a bit about direct file transfer and the applications we like to use.
FTP (file transfer protocol) has been around for a long time, and is still the standard on which the following technologies are based – however, the data transfer and authentication is unencrypted, and is therefore a no-no. On our servers, we employ the secure version of FTP: SFTP (secure FTP). The authentication and data transfer is encrypted with SSL. There is another version – FTPS (FTP over SSL) which we also do use for some situations, but we prefer SFTP since it uses a single TCP port. This makes it more compatible with the various customer firewalls we have to deal with. That said, the regular FTP port is commonly blocked by corporate and education firewalls, which is also another reason we don’t use FTPS. So SFTP gets our vote in practically all cases. If you need to transfer a handful of videos to us, that is what we will ask you to use.
So which apps do we like and recommend – not just for dealing with us but for all your transfer needs? My personal favorite is FlashFXP.
It’s very lightweight, extremely simple and stable, and supports all the typical transfer protocols (FTP, SFTP, FTPS, etc). The queue is robust and it also supports FXP, which is a genius invention – server-to-server transfers. As long as at least one server supports it and you are using FTP/FTPS, you can use your client to control file transfers between two remote servers, all with a simple GUI file explorer. Very nice – it beats having to do the same via SSH shell or remote desktop. It’s my go-to transfer app, and it never fails.
Another extremely useful app, although not quite as easy to use or lightweight as FlashFXP, is SmartFTP. There are two reasons this app is very useful to me – multi-part transfers and browsing the server while a transfer is in progress. Multi-part transfers essentially speed up most FTP transfers by transferring each file in multiple concurrent connections. You can often download a file in 50 – 30% of the time. Crucial. Also extremely useful is being able to continue browsing the server and add to your transfer queue after you’ve already started it. The navigation mimics Windows Explorer but with tabs, which is useful occasionally and very cluttered the rest of the time. I appreciate the power of this navigation system, but I would rather work with multiple application instances, rather than throw everything into the same window. When using SmartFTP, what you’ll miss from FlashFXP is its speed and visual simplicity. My choice of which app to use for a particular task depends on what I’m transferring and whether I need multi-part transfers..
Definitely worth mentioning is FireFTP. Although its features are basic, when you need to make a transfer and you’re on a server console or someone else’s workstation, you can easily get a transfer going within just a few seconds by installing this Firefox extension. It’s made my life easier on many occasions.
As you can tell, we generally work with Windows computers behind the scenes, so aside from FireFTP, this post is focused on Windows FTP applications. However, I will add that when I’m using a Mac and need to use an FTP application, Transmit is very good.
One last note – if you’d like to host your own SFTP server, I can’t recommend anything other than Bitvise SSH server. It’s free for personal use, and commercial use is very reasonably priced. I cannot once recall it failing, and it couldn’t be easier to setup and maintain.