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Troubleshooting Q&A - September 11, 2003

Setting Up an FTP Server - Part 1

An FTP server is an inexpensive and relatively simple to operate tool that works great for sharing files over the Internet. Learn how to install, configure, and operate an FTP server in this week's Q&A.

By Ron Pacchiano

Q. I live on the West Coast and have been looking for a way to give my sister who lives on the East Coast access to some of the files stored on my PC. We are both using Windows XP Professional. I have a cable modem for Internet access, which is connected to a D-Link DI-614+ Router. My sister is using a Verizon DSL line connected directly to her PC.

In a past Q&A question entitled “Configuring the XP Firewall” you spoke about modifying Windows XP’s Internet Connection Firewall to allow a service to pass through the firewall and access the PC. So I wanted to know if it would be possible to configure ICF to allow a folder on my hard drive to be accessible to another user over the Internet. If it can, then what "Description of Service" and ports do I assign to it? Thanks for all your help!

A. There are actually a number of different ways for you to provide your sister – or any user for that matter – with remote access to your system. Applications like PC Anywhere, Go2myPC, Microsoft’s NetMeeting, Remote Desktop, or even more advanced setups like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) would all provide the capability you’re looking for.

The problem with most of these solutions, though, is that they're going to require you to make a considerable investment in time and money to get them properly implemented, and frankly they’re overkill for what you’re looking to accomplish. Since your primary objective here is to give your sister access to a specific folder on your hard drive, I would suggest that you simply set up an FTP server on your desktop.

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is an application protocol that uses the Internet's TCP/IP protocols to allow users to easily transfer files between computers. FTP is commonly used to transfer web page files from their creator's computer to the remote computer that is hosting the person's website. FTP is also commonly used to download programs and other files to your computer from your favorite shareware site.

FTP is similar in operation to the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which transfers displayable web pages and related files, and the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which transfers e-mail. FTP is without question the simplest way to exchange files between computers on the Internet.

To access an FTP server you can either use an FTP client package like CuteFTP or connect via a standard web browser. The FTP site is accessed by entering the IP address of the FTP server in your web browser. The only difference is that instead of having HTTP in front of the address, it would read FTP. So the syntax would appear as ftp://xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx; with the xxx's of course being the server's IP address. An FTP server can also be used with a qualified domain name (ex. Myftpserver.com) if you have one registered with the InterNIC.

There are two primary advantages in using an FTP server. First, you already have everything you need to implement it, so neither you nor your sister will need to spend any additional money on software. Plus, an FTP server is available with Windows XP Professional; all you need to do is install it off of the setup CD.

Second, this approach has the added benefit of not requiring you to make any modifications or install any additional software on your sister's PC. The entire configuration is confined to your PC. So while FTP doesn’t provide you with anywhere near the flexibility you would get with a VPN or a package like PC Anywhere, it is far simpler to install and use, especially for your sister. Considering the fact that your sister is on the East Coast, this is good.

By the way, speaking of your sister, you mentioned in your question that her DSL line was connected directly to her PC. I hope at the very least she is using a software-based firewall to protect her PC from intruders. I cannot stress the importance of this enough — aving an unprotected PC on the Internet today can be extremely dangerous. So if she isn’t using one already, I would highly recommend you suggest to her that she install something like ZoneAlarm or Microsoft’s Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) as soon as possible. OK, I've said my piece; now we can move on.

In order for a user to gain access to an FTP server they need to log on to it. Most publicly accessible FTP sites allow you to download files only. They do this by using what is referred to as an anonymous FTP account. A private one like yours, however, can be configured to allow users to update, delete, rename, move, and copy files between systems, provided you grant the user the rights to do so.

This means that if you were so inclined, you could configure your FTP site to only allow specific users access to it. For simplicity sake, we are going to configure yours using an anonymous FTP account.

Due to the space limitations we have here, we are going to cover installation and configuration in two parts. This week I’ll show you how to install the FTP service in Windows XP Professional. Next week we'll discuss how to open up ports on your firewall to allow your sister to access it and how to go about downloading files from it.

Part 1: Installing Microsoft’s File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Service

  • Click Start and go to the Control Panel
  • Select Add/Remove Programs and then click on Add/Remove Windows Components
  • Under Windows Components select Internet Information Services (IIS)
  • Click Details and select the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Service. Note: This will also automatically select Common Files and Internet Information Services Snap-In
  • Now Click OK and then Next to start the copy file process. At this point you might be prompted for your Windows XP CD. Once this step has been completed, the FTP service will be installed on your system. You might need to reboot your computer at this point. Once your PC comes back online, the FTP service should be up and running.

You can verify that the FTP server is running by going back to the Control Panel and selecting the Administrative Tools icon. Next select Internet Information Services (IIS). The IIS dialog box is split in two — on the left side of the screen you’ll see your computer. Expand this window, and you’ll see a folder labeled “FTP Sites”; select it. On the right side of the screen you’ll see a description of the service and its current state. If the state is listed as “Running”, then you have successfully installed the FTP service on your system.

Next week we’ll move on to Part 2: Router Configuration and File Access. Until then, best of luck!


Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. We cannot guarantee to answer every question we get, but we’ll consider them all.



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