If you’re managing a website, the tools you use are nearly as important as your website itself. Your software determines how easy it will be to craft the website you want, manage and alter your site over time, increase traffic and improve page speed, and maintain strong security measures. Cutting corners while looking for software may save time and money today, but you’re much more likely to run into problems down the line when you need to replace them.
One essential tool for many website owners is the humble FTP client, an application that facilitates the transfer of files from one device to another over the internet. Any time you need to send a file to a server (such as your web server) or download something from it, the right FTP client is your best friend.
In this post, we’ll first unpack what the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is, what an FTP client really does, and why you might need one to help in your website development process. Then, we’ll give our recommendations for the best FTP clients you can download today.
What is an FTP client?
To understand FTP clients, let’s first discuss FTP. The File Transfer Protocol (or FTP for short) is a network protocol for transferring files over the internet. FTP can be very useful for website owners, as it lets you upload website files from your personal device to your hosting server.
For example, say you have a version of your website saved locally on your computer, such as a backup or a local test site. FTP is a way of sending these files straight to your server so you can publish them. WordPress users can also take advantage of FTP for uploading theme and plugin files downloaded from third-party sources.
In order to send files from a computer to a web server via FTP, website owners use an FTP client. An FTP client is an application on your computer that connects you to remote servers through FTP and other protocols. An FTP client provides an environment in which you can upload files to a server, download files from a server to your device, and view and manage files stored on your web server.
Many FTP clients allow you to do other things too, like connect to cloud storage platforms (i.e. Dropbox and Google Drive), edit files located on a server without needing to download them, and logging your file upload/download history.
FTP clients can usually transfer files through protocols other than FTP as well, notably FTPS (File Transfer Protocol Secure), which encrypts FTP transfers with the SSL/TLS protocol, and SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol), a different protocol that uses secure shell for encryption. These are protocols to look out for when reviewing FTP clients, as they ensure your file transfers are safe from theft or unauthorized changes. When you can, use a secure transfer protocol over the comparatively insecure FTP.
There are many FTP clients available, some free and some paid. The right FTP client will depend on your specific needs and your operating system (OS). So, let’s review eight of the best options, broken down by OS compatibility.
But before we continue, an important note: Always download your FTP client software from the official product website, or from a file download service endorsed by its developers. Otherwise, you run the risk of placing malware on your device.
Cyberduck is an excellent all-around FTP client for both Windows and Mac users. It’s free, easy to pick up for new users, and supports FTP and SFTP. It also lets you connect to cloud storage services like Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure and OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive — easily and quickly upload your files to any of these locations from one desktop app.
One feature that makes Cyberduck especially good for macOS users is its interface — the minimalist, modern visuals are designed to blend in with macOS aesthetics, so it barely feels like you’re working in a separate application. Plus, Cyberduck lets you drag and drop files to transfer them and can store your passwords in your keychain. As for editing files, this FTP client integrates with most leading text editors, giving you some flexibility with your preferred environment.
You can download Cyberduck today at no cost, but be aware that the application occasionally asks you for donations. You can do away with these prompts by donating $10 to the developers.
FileZilla is another big name in the FTP client space and is endorsed by many developers for its flexibility and support for FTP, FTPS, and SFTP. It’s even earned an endorsement from WordPress for being free and high-quality.
FileZilla offers everything website developers need to connect with their servers. It’s built around a two-pane display, showing local files to the left and server files to the right. To transfer, click and drag a file from one side to the opposite. Files are easy to track down and save with the search and bookmarking tools, and FileZilla can accommodate transfers of large files greater than four gigabytes with minimal disruption to your workflow.
The interface may not be the sleekest, but for those who don’t care as much about aesthetics, FileZilla can be learned quickly. And with its frequent updates, the software is continually adding new features and fixing bugs.
One downside of FileZilla, however, is the ads. In addition to the program itself, FileZilla installs adware on your computer without asking permission, and will run ads for other products when you launch the program. Upgrading to FileZilla Pro (for $19.99) removes these ads.
WinSCP is a free, open-source, Windows-only FTP client, and one of the best choices for Windows users looking for support for FTP, SFTP, and FTPS. Currently sitting at over 150 million downloads, WinSCP will likely meet your needs without any adware or donation prompts.
Like other FTP clients, WinSCP takes on a simple interface and divides the main window into a local files area and a remote files area. The controls are easy to figure out, so you can start uploading and downloading right away. Plus, the interface is customizable to a large extent, and there’s an integrated text editor that you can use to modify files without leaving the program. Advanced users can even take advantage of WinSCP’s scripting capabilities to automate various tasks.
Overall, many consider WinSCP to be the best free FTP client for Windows. If you prefer the Windows OS, give this option a go.
Free FTP is, you guessed it, a free FTP client for Windows machines. Despite being a newcomer compared to others, Free FTP has made a name for itself as one of the best. It has support for FTP, SFTP, and FTPS, and also handles transfers via HTTP.
Free FTP is sprinkled with many little features that make it enjoyable and efficient. It enables fast uploads and downloads, logs all activity inside the tool, lets you bookmark files for easy access, reports problems with clear error messages, and can zip any group of files you want for easy archiving.
The developers of Free FTP also offer a paid version of the tool called Direct FTP. If you like the free version, you can upgrade for $39 and get features like website preview, permissions for files and folders, a code snippet library, and syntax highlighting to make your HTML, CSS, and PHP more readable.
Pricing: Free FTP is free. The premium version, Direct FTP, is $39.
The first premium FTP client on our list, CuteFTP starts at $59.99 for a single license, and is a solid pick for those looking to get a bit more from their FTP service.
Specifically, CuteFTP excels in its enhanced security and customer support. In addition to its support for secure file transfer protocols, CuteFTP includes a built-in password manager and robust password authentication and encryption to limit remote file access to users you trust.
And, if you prefer to talk to a representative when you need help, you can pay extra for one year of maintenance and support. This can come in handy if you encounter technical issues and don’t have time to sift through documentation.
Other notable pros of this tool include drag-and-drop functionality, automation for file transfers, scheduled backups, security monitoring on transfers, and a built-in HTML editor.
Pricing: CuteFTP is available for $59.99 (with updates at $29.99 each), or for $89.99 for one year of maintenance and support (with updates at $59.99 each).
FTP clients for macOS systems are harder to come by, but there are still a handful of quality choices out there. Transmit is one such option, allowing for fast file transfers over FTP, SFTP, and FTPS. This premium client also supports transfers with Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Azure and OneDrive, and several other leading cloud storage services.
With Transmit, you don’t need to settle for an outdated interface with excessive options. This tool blends in with the macOS interface that you expect, and cleanly presents only its essential features. The file viewer is intuitive, and beginners will appreciate the user-friendliness and attention to detail that the developers have taken with the front-end.
Transmit is also notable for its speed. After many updates, the tool has optimized for faster file searching and file transfers. If you find yourself frequently moving large files around, time saved with this tool will make up for its cost.
ForkLift is another premium option for macOS that seamlessly blends into your environment and gives you the resources you need to complete FTP and SFTP file transfers, as well as connections to cloud services like Google Drive, Amazon S3, and Dropbox. Move your files around via drag-and-drop inside the intuitive two-panel system, and turn on dark mode to put less strain on your eyes.
One notable unique feature of ForkLift is ForkLift Mini, which places an accessible icon in your top menu bar and saves any of your remote connections as a disk. To upload files to your remote server, just drag-and-drop files from Finder. It’s a super-efficient way to initiate file transfers without needing to open the app.
Pricing: ForkLift is $29.95 for a single-user license, $49.95 for a family license, or $99.95 for a small business license.
CloudMounter, our final macOS recommendation, syncs your cloud services to your local device as disks. You can create network drives for popular services like Google Drive, Amazon S3, Dropbox, OneDrive, and Backblaze. Then, when you want to upload a file, simply drag it to the appropriate drive. This saves space on your computer and eliminates the need to install a separate app for each service — CloudMounter Brings everything together.
This app also permits FTP, SFTP, and FTPS transfers in the same way: Create a drive for your remote server, then click and drag to start a transfer. Transfers to all cloud services and remote servers are encrypted, making CloudMounter a safe, lightweight, high-quality solution for website owners.
Pricing: CloudMounter retails at $44.99 for use on one device or $129.99 for use on five devices.
FTP is a concept that might seem abstract and unnecessary to the new website user. However, an FTP client becomes invaluable when you need a way to send files to your server or to one of your cloud storage solutions. Any tool that makes things easier and faster without adding too much friction is worth it, and any of the FTP clients we’ve listed above can handle your file transfers easily, quickly, and safely.
Originally published Feb 15, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated February 15 2021