Your data is important. Scratch that – your data is very important. Whether it’s just a handful of essays, lab data, or your master thesis that launches you into the profession of your dreams, that data is still important. The worst case scenario is that, by complete accident, that data is lost and there is nothing to do about it. There is one thing to do to ensure that this never happens: back-ups. A pain? Yes. Worth it? Beyond words. Now you have a couple of options: external hard drives, cloud storage, or uploading it to a secure server. External hard drives are relatively cheap, but can be broken or lost. Cloud storage can be accessed anywhere and never be lost, but we suggest that you should be wary when uploading data to a cloud drive for security risks. Instead, a viable option is to back-up data to a server. While it can be a bit difficult at first, the process is easy with a little practice and the right software. This can all be done with with three letters: FTP.
What is FTP?
FTP, or File-Transfer-Protocol, is a network protocol that allows users to transfer files between computers over a network. Protocols can be thought as a set of rules for how data is transmitted over a connection. Common ones are used for the internet (HTTP), email (SMTP), or internet messaging (IMAP). A similar protocol to FTP is SFTP (Secure-File-Transfer-Protocol). This means that any data transferred over it is done over a secure (SSH) connection. FTP and SFTP work by a client-server model, in which one computer (the server) on the network hosts the information, and others (the clients) can access and change that information.
The client server model is simple, and used by every major computer network. A server provides some type of service, typically a file server, mailing server, web server or gaming server. In the simplest terms, the server holds onto something, like files, and the clients access them over a network. The advantage here is that not all of the computers need to have all of the files, and can access them as needed from the server. While servers are usually a large black monolith sitting in a cold room, as long as the machine is providing a resource to clients, it can be considered a server, even laptops.
A FTP can be accessed in two ways: through a command line interface or through a graphical user interface (known as GUI). Most of the time, there really isn’t a need to use a command line, as graphical user interface offers easier access for most users. Web browsers can also access servers as well, but don’t have the options or security of FTP programs.
Using FTP with WinSCP and Filezilla
While there are more than a dozen FTP applications across the web, OIT officially supports two: Filezilla and WinSCP. These are both open source programs, so they have good support, numerous forums, guides, and wikis, as well as being free to download and use. You can download WinSCP here, and Filezilla here.
WInSCP is easy to setup. After downloading and installing WinSCP, you are given a start up page that looks like this:
From here you enter in the server host name, which is, for example, webadmin.oit.umass.edu. Each student, faculty, or staff is allocated 100 MB of file space on the webadmin.oit.umass.edu server. Next enter in your NetID and password, and make sure that the port number is set to 22 with SFTP selected in the drop down box. Keep in mind that if you want to access another server, the server name, user name, and password will all be different.
From here another window pops up, which you should click yes:
And viola, you are connected to the webadmin server:
Here you can securely store your back-ups of important data by just copying over files from the left hand window (which displays your PC’s files) to the server file (on the right). Note that you can only access the folder with your name on it. This works very similarly to the normal file browser in Windows, and users shouldn’t have a hard time working between the two.
Filezilla has an almost identical setup, and requires the same information as WinSCP. But Filezilla is unique in that it also offers a server application for Windows users. Be sure to download the separate application for client when working as a client or server, as they do completely different things. When using the server application, you can turn any computer into an accessible server, including making user accounts for other people to access. If you have a home network and want to use a server to share data, for perhaps a media center, Filezilla works great, and allows to to not have to drag large files between computers.