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FTP vs HTTP: Understanding the Key Differences

Today we will see what exactly is FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and how does it compare to the newer protocol called HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). They both can perform similar tasks, and you can see them both still in use. But is it one of them better? Let’s compare FTP vs HTTP!

What is FTP?

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is a standard network protocol used for transferring files between a client and a server. It dates back to the early days of the Internet and remains widely used today. It operates on the client-server model, where one computer (the client) establishes a connection with another computer (the server) to exchange files. FTP supports two modes: active mode and passive mode, which determine how data connections are established. It uses separate control and data channels, making it ideal for large file transfers, directory synchronization, and remote file management.

FTP is an old protocol, still from the age without a graphical interface. Abhay Bhushan first published it on 16.04.1971. You can access it through the command-line, or through a modern graphical interface. There are options that integrate it inside programs for web admins.
FTP transfer files by using the TCP. It needs to establish two connections, the data connection on port 20 and the second is control information on port 21.
You can use FTP if you are trying to install WordPress or another CMS on your web hosting. You can also use it to back up your website and download a copy of it to your computer. Less and less, people are using it to transfer files between them. The cloud solutions are making FTP absolute.

What is HTTP?

HTTP, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol, is the foundation of the World Wide Web. It defines how web browsers and web servers communicate and exchange information. HTTP functions through a request-response model, where a client sends a request to a server, and the server responds with the requested data. It operates on the application layer of the TCP/IP protocol suite, making it versatile for various web-related tasks, including browsing, data retrieval, and API interactions.

The creator of it is the famous father of the internet – Tim Berners-Lee. He developed it back in 1989 in CERN. Just like the FTP, HTTP also uses a client-server model. When you use your web browser and type an URL, you will use HTTP over TCP/IP (port 80). That way, you send a HTTP request to get the desired website (text, images, videos and all other kinds of content). The web server will give you back the answer with the desired web page (all files on it).

FTP vs HTTP

Both FTP and HTTP are part of the application layer that combines communication protocols and interface methods. Here we will see how they are different.

  • You can use HTTP to view websites and the FTP just for transferring files.
  • The client for HTTP is the browser (Chrome, Opera, etc.) and for the FTP is the command-line.
  • Both can be used to admin a website, but HTTP is more popular. Just in some cases, the FTP can be more appropriate.
  • It is believed that FTP is more efficient for larger files, while HTTP is better for smaller files.
  • FTP doesn’t send meta-data, just binary and the HTTP uses pipelining to organize the transfer of multiple files.

Here is a comparison table that illustrates the differences between FTP and HTTP:

Feature FTP HTTP
Full form FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
Protocol Type Application Layer Application Layer
Purpose File transfer Web page retrieval
Use Case FTP works on client-server architecture and is used to transmit files among different hosts. HTTP works on client-server architecture and is used to transfer web pages between a client and a server.
Port Number Port 21 (Control), Port 20 (Data) Port 80 (HTTP), Port 443 (HTTPS)
Security Plain text, no built-in encryption Can use TLS/SSL for secure transfers
Connection Connection-oriented protocol Connectionless protocol
Authentication FTP requires a password. HTTP does not require authentication.
Efficient More efficient for larger files Better for smaller files

Choosing the Right Protocol

The choice between FTP and HTTP largely depends on your specific requirements. For example, if your primary objective is to transfer files, especially large ones, access remote servers, or perform backups, FTP might be the optimal choice. On the other hand, if you are primarily engaged in web browsing, downloading files, or interacting with web applications, HTTP’s efficiency and compatibility with modern web technologies make it the preferable option.

Conclusion

FTP vs HTTP is not really a question anymore. The internet has adopted the HTTP standard, and there is going back. FTP is not a bad protocol, but HTTP can do almost everything it can. And the safer version HTTPS is the new must on any page. FTP is starting to have problems with some firewalls because of the port that it is using (some firewalls allow just the ports for HTTP and HTTPS). FTP will soon disappear, and it is ok to let it go.

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Tags: , , , , , , , , , Last modified: June 1, 2023
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