Archive for July, 2010

Web Tips for Webzine Editors and Writers #3: Software, Part 3


This post will round out the three part sub-series on software used for getting material onto the internet. Previously, this series has covered tools to create web content and the importance of the internet browser, the endpoint software used to view the finished product. This post will focus on how to transfer that content to the Internet so that it is available to the world.

In order for a web page to be seen by others, the files associated with that page must first be located on a server computer, which contains software to connect and distribute that content to other computers. The files can be created directly onto the server or, more commonly, uploaded from a client computer(used to create the content). This transfer can be facilitated by the web browser or by a specialty file transfer software.

In both methods, the software on the client end creates a connection to the server, and the server reads data from the user’s computer to make an identical copy. However, each software type uses different a different method to connect to the server.

Which method do I have?

The upload method for a website will greatly depend on the site type and web host. If using a content management system (CMS), including blog engines and social networks, the method used will be predominantly browser-based uploading.

Most importantly, the presence of a web-based system is dependent on the web host, the company providing the server computer that operates the website. It is important to look for file upload options, while shopping for a web host. Most popular web host company provide both methods.

Uploading with Web Browsers

For the purposes of this post, the definition of uploading is restricted to the transfer of files to a server. Some CMS versions can store text and links to online files within online databases, which is a different process.

For browser-based uploading, web pages typically use forms for the user to fill with appropriate information such as the location of the file on the client computer. Once submitted, the server must copy that information, translate it, and place it in its own filesystem.

This method provides ease of use for the user by not requiring specialty software and configuration. However, the server being used must be programmed and configured to accept files from a wide variety of computers with different operating systems and settings. So results and features vary between website and server programming.

For this reason, this method is prone to errors and incomplete file transfer depending on file size and type.

Another disadvantage to this method is that file management also greatly depends on the website. In some cases, editing or deleting a file is not possible to be done by the user and can require contacting a server administrator to manage files manually. However, this problem is typically related to social networks and blog sites. Most web hosts will provide full featured file management, though situations can occur where administrator assistance will be required.

Microsoft Internet Explorer is a special case internet browser in that it can also serve as a file transfer client, which will be discussed below.

Uploading with File Transfer Software

The major advantage to File Transfer Software is that it is designed explicitly for transfer of files between computers. For this reason, files on the server computer can be browsed as easily as using the client computer’s file browser (ie. Windows Explorer or Finder). These software are basically file browsers designed to access file systems of remote server computers. In fact, most default file browsers included with a computer’s operating system can, with a little configuration, access FTP servers.

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is a set of commands installed on a computer that instructs it to properly transfer files with another computer. Variations of this protocol, such as SFTP, can be applied for additional security measures like encrypting the files and/or data that identifies the client computer. The ability to use each variation depends on the software installed on both the server and the client computers.

Because FTP and its variations are standard methods, users can choose from any software that uses the same protocol. Many software will even provide compatibility for more than one variant. The user only need to select the protocol with the initial setup along with the server information (IP address, username and password), which would be provided by the web host.

There are multiple free and commercially available FTP clients, and as mentioned previously, methods to use default installed software to access an FTP account. Although it is a web browser, Microsoft Internet Explorer is partially based on Microsoft Windows Explorer, and can access FTP servers in the same manner. Some clients can even be used as an extension in browsers, such as FireFTP for Mozilla Firefox.

The available clients are limitless, but a few of the most popular ones are listed below:
FTP Clients

Included Microsoft Windows Explorer Windows
Included Microsoft Internet Explorer Windows
Included Apple Finder Mac
$0 FileZilla Windows, Mac, Linux
$0 SmartFTP Windows
$0 Cyberduck Mac
$0 Fetch Mac