The best advice, for those wanting to upload files by FTP, is to install a proper FTP package on your computer. However, you might occasionally find yourself needing to use your browser for FTP, or you may want to ask someone to upload files using their browser
, and this could cause you some problems because web browsers do not do FTP very well.
In theory, you ought to be able to just type an FTP URL, e.g. ftp://bcra.org.uk
and have the browser sort out the connection for you, prompting for user name and password. But in practice, that does not always work.
This posting is not an FTP tutorial, so Im not going to explain all the tedious settings you have to check in Internet Explorer. Instead, my purpose is to point out a strange "behaviour" (i.e. not actually a "bug") on the BCA server that you might not notice elsewhere, and to make a suggestion for how to FTP to the BCA web server.
Firstly, the problem:
discounting the fact that some browsers may operate in a "read only" fashion (and not let you upload or create folders) and some browsers might require arcane settings to be made (i.e. Internet Explorer) there is a particular problem when using web browsers with the BCA FTP site (and some, but not all other FTP sites). The symptom of the problem is an obscure error message. Internet Explorer may just report that the site is unavailable
. Firefox might say 421 Can't change directory to /var/ftp/
and Chrome might say Error 324 net::ERR_EMPTY_RESPONSE): Unknown error
or Error 101 (net::ERR_CONNECTION_RESET): Unknown error.
These are all symptoms of the same problem, which is caused by two circumstances, namely...
1) The FTP site has been set up to disallow anonymous logins, and
2) Your browser has been configured to try an anonymous login before attempting a password login.
What happens (it appears, after some testing) is that your browser sends a blank USER command to the FTP site and the site responds saying "well f*** off then". The reason your browser does this - even though you had no intention of logging on anonymously - is that it is (allegedly; according to some of the Internet community) part of the specification for the behaviour of web clients that they should attempt an anonymous login before doing a signed login.
An FTP site that does
accept an anonymous login accepts the blank USER command, at which point it waits for a password (which might be blank, of course). But, at this point, your browser probably decides to ask you how you want to log in and, if you give it a user name and password, it simply sends a fresh USER command to the FTP site which then abandons the anonymous login. (You can see that this sequence of events is daft and either the browser programmers or the FTP programmers, or both, have screwed up. The web forums are full of people moaning about this, and wishing that FTP sites would issue a more helpful message to these stupid browsers!)
If you are having this problem with the BCA server, there are a number of things you can try.
1) First of all, go to the Command Prompt in Windows and try a "manual" FTP command. Type ftp <your ftp site>
and then type your user name and password in response to the prompts. After the site has logged you in, type quit
to log out. If that all works then you know FTP is working, and it is just your browser that is causing the problem. In theory, you can use this command-line interface to send your files ... if you know what you are doing.
2) You can force Internet Explorer to do a signed login, but the process is tedious and I cannot remember it. It involves several arcane settings you need to specify and the details probably vary betwen browser versions. Someone might wish to post instructions ...?
3) You can use WinZip to FTP to the server. I didnt realise WinZip could do this, so thanks to Geoff Dommett for pointing it out. I have WinZip 14.5 Pro and it is dead simple - go to the File menu and select "send to...", and "FTP site", and follow the instructions.
4) You can download FireFTP, a free FTP package for Firefox.
this strange FTP problem is caused by the twin circumstances of an FTP site that refuses an anonymous login (e.g. the BCA server) and a browser that insists on performing an anonymous login before trying a signed login. It highlights the fact that web browsers are not ideal for FTP