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Using File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

The Computer-mediated Communications systems team within Information Services maintains an FTP server for use by research personnel and other users who need to transfer large files over the network. FTP (file transfer protocol) pre-dates the world wide web by a long way but is still very relevant and useful today because it allows upload of files in addition to download. FTP users may also be interested in the QUB Dropbox for large file transfers.

An FTP User Guide with example usage of FileZilla is available here.

Advantages over Netstorage

'Public' directory
  • Personal anonymous upload allowing sharing of files with co-workers anywhere on the internet
  • FTP is a long-established internet standard with a wide choice of client software available (Netstorage requires a recent web browser)

Advantages over Email

FTP is an efficient method of transferring large files

  • Preferable to sending e-mail attachments, especially for:
    • Sending files to multiple people
    • People on slow dial-up links who need to retrieve large files at their convenience
    • Extremely large files (several megabytes or greater)
  • Direct connection, no need to rely on an e-mail instructure that is designed to handle short text messages and does not cope well with large files

User Accounts

Accounts on the FTP server are provided primarily for personal use by individual staff or research students but in the past entire research groups have been provided with a common login on the server and these users are still supported. However if this method is used to share files with co-workers outside the University, then the password must be shared with them, which is not usually a good idea. The 'public directory' and personal anonymous upload features are the preferred way of exchanging files with co-workers etc. outside the university.

Recommended Software Requirements

FTP is accessible using a wide range of software packages such as the free, cross-platform FTP client FileZilla.

Command-line FTP is available on almost every internet-connected computer and can normally be accessed by typing ftp ftp.qub.ac.uk at a command or shell prompt. (In Windows this can also be done through the Run option on the start menu.) The most useful commands here are bin, asc, dir, get, put, del, mkdir, rmdir and bye.

Microsoft Internet Explorer may be used to log in to an FTP server if a URL of the form ftp://username@ftp.qub.ac.uk/ is input (it will prompt for the user's password). However it has a bug specifically regarding downloading files from sub-directories and will not be suitable for all purposes. This bug appears to manifest itself when the root directory is not the same as the login directory, as is the case on the QUB FTP server in authenticated (rather than the default anonymous) mode.

A conventional graphical FTP client is probably the best choice for most people. Older versions of WS_FTP and CuteFTP are normally reliable choices.

For the convenience of users a web-based interface to the FTP server is now also available. Note that the web-based interface will not allow upload of files greater in size than 256MB; to work with files larger than this you must use a conventional FTP client (or use Windows Explorer in FTP mode; see above).

Instructions for Use

To request an account, send an e-mail to ftp-request@qub.ac.uk with your name, staff / student number and preferred username on the FTP server (8 chars max., normally first initial followed by first 7 characters of surname) together with an explanation of what you will be using the service for.

There are three methods of using the FTP service:

  1. Normal private FTP for temporarily storing files (e.g. moving data between work and home): Simply log in with your username and password to ftp.qub.ac.uk, using the FTP client of your choice. You will be placed in your home directory from where you can download and upload files, and create sub-directories if necessary.
  2. Sharing files with other people inside or outside QUB: Any files placed in the 'public' sub-directory of your home directory will be accessible by anonymous ftp in the directory /pub/users/yourusername. It is easy to write this in a clickable URL format ftp://ftp.qub.ac.uk/pub/users/yourusername/ for non-FTP aware users.
    Notes:
    • The directory /pub/users is not listable for anonymous log-ins so the usernames are not visible and anonymous browsing by Archie etc. of the files people have made available is not possible.
    • The directory /pub/users/yourusername is listable by default (so if you have more than one file made public people would be able to see them all), but if necessary it is possible for experienced users to work around this by creating sub-directories and changing the permissions on the top-level directory so it is not world-readable.
  3. Personal anonymous uploads: when someone wants to send a file to you tell them to anonymously upload it to /pub/incoming/users/yourusername on ftp.qub.ac.uk. It will then appear in the 'incoming' sub-directory of your home directory.
    Notes:
    • It is possible to perform an anonymous upload using Microsoft Internet Explorer when the 'Enable folder view for FTP sites' setting is enabled (normally the default). The required URL is ftp://ftp.qub.ac.uk/uploads/yourusername/
    • None of the directories under /uploads are listable and the anonymous users are not permitted to create new directories, so it should be impossible to anonymously download anything from this area of the filesystem. A side-effect of this is that it is not possible for an anonymous user to list a file after it has been uploaded. This is a security feature.
    • After a file has been anonymously uploaded it will not be accessible (to the user it was 'sent' to) until it has been scanned for viruses. Virus scanning of recently uploaded files takes place every 15 minutes so any delay should be virtually imperceptible. If a file that has been anonymously uploaded is found to contain a virus it is automatically deleted without warning.

Additional note on Anonymous logins

All references above to anonymous uploads and downloads assume a login using the username anonymous and the password should be the user's e-mail address. When using a web browser as an FTP client this anonymous login is taken care of automatically. However if using a conventional FTP client to make anonymous connections it will be necessary to enter the actual username anonymous.

File names and sizes

Note that all directory and pathnames are case-sensitive. For performance reasons it is not recommended to store many small files on the server, and if large numbers of files need to be transferred they should preferably by zipped or tarred before uploading.

Quotas and Storage Limits

  • A file size and count quota is in place in the private area (including 'public' sub-directories) of the server. This should not cause any difficulties for normal use. The server is intended for temporary transfer of files and should not be relied upon for long-term storage. Each user has an initial quota of 256MB but this can be increased based on business requirements.
  • The anonymous incoming directories are purged daily and files older than two weeks deleted. When someone sends you a file using this method, if you wish to keep it it is imperative to move it into your private storage area as soon as possible.

Checking Quota and Changing Password

The amount of disk quota used and the grace time remaining can be checked in the output from the FTP client or by logging in to the web interface. Password changing can also be undertaken through the web interface.