An introduction to FTP

What is FTP ?

FTP is a method to transfer files (documents, images, ...) over the Internet from one computer to another. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol.

What do I need to transfer files by FTP?

The best thing you can use is a specific FTP program. For PC you can use Filezilla, for Macintosh there is Fetch. (see our Webnotes for additional info)

Note: nowadays, you can also use recent Internet/Web browsers to transfer files with FTP.

How does it work?

FTP uses the so-called client/server model. On one side, there is the customer - you - and on the other side there is a server, on which files are stored.

If one wishes to store or retrieve files to/from a server, simply start your FTP program, and specify the hostname of the server, and a username and password. Once you have logged on succesfully, you will be able to browse through the files and directories on the remote server, and upload and download files.

Note: to logon onto an FTP server with an Internet/Web browser specify the address username being the ID to logon onto the server (the browser will ask for the password to logon).

What's anonymous FTP?

To be able to logon onto server, you usually need a username and password. Sometimes persons wish to offer or exchange files with other persons on the Internet, without the latter having such a username and password on the server in question. As giving your username and password to someone else is very dangerous, some FTP servers allow persons to login with the username 'anonymous' and specifying their email address as password. This method of logging on and exchanging files is called Anonymous FTP.

How to use the Anonymous FTP server at the Computing Centre?

The Computing Centre offers members of the VUB/ULB to exchange files with persons outside the university using an anonymous FTP server. People outside the university can put files on the or server, logging on as 'anonymous' and their email address as password, and put files into the directory /pub/exchange  The files are retrievable to anyone connected to the local VUB and ULB network.

Note: to store files through an Internet/Web browser, you can simply specify the address and upload your file to that directory. It will be accessible to persons working on a computer connected to the university's network.

People inside the university can also put files on the anonymous FTP server. In order that these files be available to persons outside the university, they must login as themselves (with their username/loginname/netwerk identity, e.g. dpeeters) on or, and use the password of their email address/network identity. They too can then put files in /pub/exchange which are then available to anyone connected to the Internet.

Note: to store files through an Internet/Web browser, you can simply specify the address and specify your password when asked fot it. Then upload your file to that directory. It will be accessible to persons to anyone on the Internet..

More details on the use of the Anonymous FTP server at the Computing Centre can be found on

VUB/ULB users can also create their own directory in /pub/exchange. To do so, they have to login on or by telnet, using their own username/netid and password, and in the MACH menu select 'w' and then 'f' to create this personal directory. (see the example session how to create the personal FTP directory in /pub/exchange).

Why not use e-mail for file transfer?

It is true that e-mail is very easy to use. And with a mouseclick you can send and receive attachments by e-mail.

However, a lot of servers refuse e-mails that are larger that a certain size. For instance, the maximum size of an e-mail message sent to or from the VUB/ULB is 16 million bytes (15.25 Mbytes). And other providers even impose more restrictive limits (sometimes even as low as 300 kbytes).

Also documents that are sent by e-mail have to be encoded in some way, making the document even larger (about one third). So a document that is 7.5 Mbytes large would become 10 Mbytes when sent by e-mail.

Feel free to contact the User Support at the Computing Centre if you require assistance, by e-mail at

VUB/ULB Computing Centre
Created: 12 September 2001, Modified: 13 February 2003
Email: User Support Group