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Mac FTP: A Guided Tour

by Giles Turnbull
04/13/2006

There once was a time (BB--Before Blogger) when every internet newbie had to learn about FTP.

After discovering the joys of Usenet, the WWW and email, a lot of people turned to FTP both to find new stuff and to upload content of their own. Finding out how to connect to an FTP server and mess with file permissions was all part of the internet newbie initiation.

These days, things are simpler and FTP seems to have dropped from the radar of most casual internet users, who rarely need to venture beyond a browser in order to build their own web content.

But (S)FTP still has a valuable place in the hearts of web builders and developers, and is still one of the most practical methods of getting files from one place to another in a secure manner.

FTP software has grown up in the meantime. Clients have matured, adopted support for more protocols, and added loads of useful new features. FTP is somewhat more sophisticated than it used to be.

There are several great FTP clients available for Mac OS X, so we thought it was about time we took a look at some of them. This is not a comparative review--there are too many clients, each with too many features, for us to be able to cover them all in one article. Consider this more a guided tour of what's available, with some pointers to a few famous sights along the way.

Interarchy

Interarchy adopts a Safari-style interface that will feel very comfortable for some users. The use of tabs makes it easy to manage multiple connections to multiple servers, and bookmarks have also been designed to operate in a very browser-like manner; anyone who has saved or used a bookmark in Safari will know exactly what is going on.

All of which might lead you to think that Interarchy is an application for newbies, but that's far from the case. Behind the simple UI is a very powerful and adaptable client.

Interarchy

New in version 8.0 (only recently released at the end of March) is support for more protocols (FTP/SSL-TLS, WebDAV), improved SSH security, and Action cogwheels in almost every imaginable place in the app. Whenever you have a file selected, you'll quickly be able to select an action for it.

Interarchy offers detailed Transfers and Transcript windows and an impressive selection of advanced networking tools, such as scheduled network host information requests, and built-in port scanning and traffic monitoring gadgets.

Version 8 is a Universal Binary and supports Bonjour connections, too. It comes with some useful AppleScripts and better yet (in my opinion), some Automator Actions for listing files on remote servers, uploading, and downloading.

Uniquely, this new release takes a radical new approach to setting up new connections. The New Connection dialog box is just like Automator, giving users the chance to select protocols and actions from a list on the left, and inserting the appropriate data into panels as required. I've not seen FTP done this way before, and it makes a nice change.

Interarchy manages to cram in a great deal of features, and is an application that will appeal most to serious network professionals and developers.

Fetch 5

Ahh, Fetch. I have fond memories of using an ancient release of Fetch on a lime-green iMac back in the OS 9 days, and even then it had a reputation as one of those all-time-great Mac applications.

Fetch

Fetch 5 is not the same all-dancing network management application as Interarchy. It is much simpler, much more focused on the most important thing: transferring files from one place to another. And it works well. Fast, easy to understand and to use, Fetch does the job.

The toolbar is an exercise in clarity and the large status pane at the bottom of each window keeps you informed of what's going on. Like many other apps we're looking at here, Fetch only displays files on the remote server. To see your own files, you need to open a Finder window. Not that this is a problem. Indeed, for most Mac users accustomed to working with multiple Finder windows, it makes perfect sense.

There's a lack of some of the smarter UI extras found elsewhere: no tabs, for example. But some people prefer things that way.

Fetch might be limited to the basics, but it does them well and it does them right. With Fetch, you can choose to edit image files on the remote server, as well as text files. It can automatically compress uploaded files (very handy for backups) and decompress archives coming the other way.

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