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Give Net Files a Transfer
Five years ago, I accessed the Internet about once a month. Today, the Internet is as much a part of my working day as e-mail. Although general Web browsing consumes some of my Net time, most of my online time is spent transferring files.
So I'm always looking for anything that makes file transfers easier and more flexible, or even automates the process. The following are the best utilities I've found for enhancing file transfer on the Internet, including the nearly forgotten FTP program. These utilities are browser-independent, so you can enjoy their advantages regardless of your browser.
The Windows 95/Windows NT 4.0 interface makes it easy to browse for files in your local and network folders. Wouldn't it be nice if you could browse Internet FTP sites in the same way? You can, with Internet Neighborhood, a freeware program from KnoWare. This shell extension for Windows 95 displays FTP sites as if they were folders in Windows Explorer. You can browse a site by clicking on it, expanding and collapsing folders as necessary to view their contents. When you find the file you want, open the destination folder and drag the file to the folder (or to your desktop). No need to stop with one file: Internet Neighborhood lets you copy an entire directory-or even an entire FTP site-by dragging the directory to your system, just as you would when copying a local folder.
Internet Neighborhood has sophisticated features but offers easy access to them via a simple interface. It includes several nice touches, including the ability to restart broken and aborted file transfers as long as the FTP server supports the REST command. You won't fully appreciate this feature until you get through 8MB of a 10MB download and your modem inexplicably disconnects. Other notable features include support for a variety of firewall protection schemes and the ability to log on either anonymously or with a specific user name. If you hate the FTP command line, want much better control over file transfers than your browser provides or long for a slick drag-and-drop interface for FTP file transfers, try Internet Neighborhood. You'll find it at http://www.knowareinc.com.
It's 2 a.m. and you're sitting in front of your computer, waiting for it to finish transferring a huge file so you can go to bed. If you had File Dog, you could have been in dreamland hours ago. File Dog, from Edge Publishing, automates file transfers; it lets you schedule file transfer events and then carries them out at the specified time. If you get busy signals from your ISP during peak evening hours, you might configure File Dog to log on at 4 a.m. to start that 10MB download. File Dog downloads from Web pages or FTP servers, and supports receiving, sending and mirroring. You can schedule transfer events to occur once or at any regular interval.
Each File Dog event includes the complete information necessary to connect with and log on to a remote service. That means you can assign a different user name and password to each event. File Dog logs the transfer and will optionally notify you by e-mail if the event fails or when it succeeds. The full version includes an FTP module for manual FTP transfers, as well as a zip file module for compressing and decompressing zip archive files. (File Dog's "pup" version lacks these two features.) You'll find File Dog at http://www.edgepub.com/fd/index.html ($39; "pup" version, $24)
Plain old FTP
The FTP program originated in the UNIX world, where the command line still reigns supreme despite valiant attempts by X Windows to overthrow it. Like DOS, Windows 95 and Windows NT include an FTP command-line utility that you can use to transfer files across the Internet. Today, tools such as Internet Neighborhood and File Dog have almost made the FTP command line obsolete. These and similar utilities offer control over log-on, multiple file download and other features that once were handled almost exclusively by the FTP command line. Even so, I've run into several instances where I had to use the FTP program because I had nothing else available. You might run into a similar situation-you need to download or upload Internet files, and there's no browser or slick FTP utility available.
The FTP program included with Windows 95 and Windows NT runs as a DOS app. To use FTP, first establish a connection to the Internet, then open a DOS session. At the command prompt, enter ftp. You'll be rewarded with an ftp prompt. That's when the fun begins.
Before you can transfer files, you need to connect to the FTP server using the open command. For example, you'd type open ftp.microsoft.com to connect to Microsoft's FTP site.
Once connected to the site, the FTP server prompts you to log on. Unless the server requires an assigned user name and password, you can log on with the user name "anonymous." Specify your e-mail address when prompted for a password.
After you've logged on, you can begin browsing the site. The site's root directory will be active by default when you first log on, so you'll probably have to change to a different remote directory to locate the file(s) you want. As in DOS, you use the cd command to change directories. Enter cd followed by the relative or absolute directory path, such as cd public/files/shareware. Once you've reached the desired directory, use dir to view the directory's contents.
When you find the file you want to download, set the file-transfer mode as either ASCII or binary. At the FTP site, enter either ascii (the default) for text files, or binary for program files, images and other nontext files.
Next, you might want to change the local directory in which you place the downloaded file (or the directory from which an upload will take place). Use the lcd command to set the local directory. Just enter lcd followed by the absolute path to the desired directory, such as lcd c:\download.
Now you're ready to start downloading or uploading. To download, issue the get command followed by filename, such as getmsie4.exe. The FTP program will begin the transfer. If you're downloading multiple files, you can use the mget command with wild cards. To retrieve all files in the current remote directory, for example, you'd use the command mget *.*
While you're working in an FTP session, you might find it necessary to drop out to a command prompt to check the location of a directory or file, delete a file or perform other non-FTP actions. At the ftp prompt, enter the ! command (exclamation mark). This opens a DOS session in which you can perform all DOS commands. When you're ready to return to the FTP session, type exit. While you're shelled out to the DOS prompt, the FTP session remains active and connected to the remote server (assuming you have already established a connection)
When the transfer is complete, the close command terminates the connection to the remote server but keeps the FTP session open. You then can open another FTP session to a different server. To perform transfers from multiple sites at one time, open multiple DOS sessions, each with its own FTP session connected to a different server or to a different directory of the same server. When you're finished using FTP, enter the bye command to terminate the program and return to the DOS command prompt.
Using FTP might seem like a stroll through the Dark Ages, but it can be indispensable at times when there are no alternatives available. For those of you longing for the DOS command line, it'll feel like home. For a look at FTP's other commands, just enter help or ? (question mark) at the ftp prompt. You'll see a list of a few dozen commands, followed by the ftp prompt. To get more information on a specific command-say the send command, for instance-type help send at the ftp prompt and you'll get a description of what it does.
Contributing Editor Jim Boyce is the author of Special Edition Using Office 97 (Que, 1997). Contact Jim care of the editor or the addresses on page 20.