What is FTP?

What is FTP?


File transfer protocol (FTP) is a method for moving files between computers on a network. It’s a set of instructions that computers use to communicate and exchange files. You can use FTP to upload files to a server, download files from a server, or transfer data between computers on a local network. 


FTP definition


First specified in a 1971 MIT whitepaper, the file transfer protocol method is now largely outdated. It lacks built-in security features, is incompatible with collaborative workplaces, and doesn’t have the capabilities of modern file-sharing software


How does FTP work? 

The FTP data transfer process has four main steps. 

  1. Establishing a connection: Using an FTP client, you make a request and connect to an FTP server. The connection is anonymous or requires a username and password, ensuring authorized access to private files. 
  2. Opening command and data channels: Once an FTP client establishes a connection, the protocol opens two separate channels. The command channel is used exclusively for sending commands between the client and server, while the data channel transfers the actual file data. 
  3. Transferring files: With your channels set up, you are able to transfer files between the client and server. This step includes uploading or downloading files, depending on a user’s access level. 
  4. Terminating session: When file sending is complete, the connection is formally closed, so all your resources are correctly released, and no data remains in transit. 


How FTP transfers data


Top challenges of FTP for your business 

Using FTP can create challenges for your team. Here are the top reasons: 


Outdated technology 

FTP operates on older technological frameworks, leading to a higher risk of failing to meet modern security and usability standards, resulting in the following issues: 

  • Third party client software is unpredictable and complicates your workflow with potential FTP connection issues 
  • Firewall errors are common, as separate command and data connections are complicated for security systems to track and authorize effectively


IT resource consumption 

Regular maintenance tasks such as applying updates and managing backups can consume substantial IT personnel time. And maintaining a file transfer protocol server requires continuous investment in hardware upgrades and software licenses. 


Weak security controls 

Without robust security measures, data transferred via FTP is susceptible to cyber threats. For instance, FTP doesn’t support file encryption, so it can expose sensitive information to potential interception during transmission. The need to manually manage user accounts and permissions also increases the risk of human error and complicates security efforts.


Complicated collaboration

Using an FTP solution to manage files internally makes it difficult for your team to stay synchronized. 

Without centralized control over your content, it becomes hard to keep track of file versions and see when documents were last modified — especially when multiple people upload and download files simultaneously. As a result, your team needs to manually compare file sizes and modification dates to determine if there is a newer version, leading to confusion and errors. 



Limited scalability 

FTP’s rigid structures make growing and adapting to new challenges difficult. Limitations include: 

  • Scaling FTP to meet business goals requires server restructuring or replacement, which is disruptive to your workflows, as it involves downtime to migrate data and configuration changes 
  • Handling increased data and user volume beyond the initial capabilities of your FTP server requires investment in IT infrastructure 


Challenges of using FTP for business


Why the cloud is a better option than FTP 

According to Pluralsight, 70% of organizations report that more than half of their infrastructure is now in the cloud. This shift is largely due to the cloud’s accessibility, security, and scalability. 

Let’s explore five benefits of the cloud as an FTP alternative for your business. 


1. Ease of use and accessibility 

Using a cloud-based platform to store, share, and collaborate on documents enhances the accessibility of your content. This modern approach simplifies how you manage data and supports the needs of your team, even if dispersed. 

With the flexibility of the cloud: 

  • Users share, download, and manage documents from any location using any device, which streamlines your content review workflows and increases productivity 
  • Teams collaborate on documents in real time, allowing you to work together without any version control confusion or FTP connection issues 

Explore the benefits of collaborative workspaces. 


2. Strengthened security 

According to an IBM report, the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million, a 15% increase over three years. While there are numerous compliance and security issues with FTP, like weak authentication and logging, cloud platforms offer the following measures for reducing the risk of breaches: 

  • Encryption of files transforms your data into a secure format nearly impossible to decode without authorization, protecting sensitive information from leaks 
  • Advanced access controls ensure only authorized users retrieve or modify your content, securing information from unauthorized access 
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires users to provide multiple forms of verification before accessing your sensitive data 
  • Constant monitoring for unusual behaviors detects unauthorized or malicious attempts to access data, alerting you to potential breaches 

Discover the top enterprise-grade features of secure collaboration tools


3. Reduced resources and costs 

Transitioning to a cloud-based solution for storing and sharing files can free up valuable resources and decrease your operational costs. Here are three advantages: 

  • Adopting cloud solutions cuts down on the costly hardware investments required for data storage, such as servers and specialized storage systems 
  • Relying on automated platform updates and maintenance reduces your workload 
  • Automating routine data management tasks eliminates the need for manual intervention, saving time and money 


4. Enhanced growth capability 

As your business evolves, cloud storage provides scalability that FTP solutions don’t, easily accommodating your needs in the following ways. 

  • Adjusting storage capacity on the fly lets you meet your needs without incurring significant costs 
  • Accessing additional resources or features instantly without the lead times associated with provisioning new hardware increases your business agility 


5. Simplified workflow integration 

By using cloud services, you prevent your data from existing in silos. A Productiv study shows the average number of SaaS apps used by each department grew by 27%, reaching an average of 87 apps in 2023. 

Integrating your data storage and sharing solutions with the apps your teams depend on to run your business simplifies your workflows and enhances overall productivity. 

Learn how to get started with enterprise workflow automation. 


Why cloud is a better option than FTP


Secured and simplified file sharing with Box 

With Box, you get an FTP alternative that makes creating, collaborating, and sharing documents more accessible. Using the Intelligent Content Cloud, your team easily access files anytime and anywhere, with centralized data control and integration with all the apps your business uses most. 

You also get peace of mind knowing your sensitive data will stay protected with enterprise-grade security and compliance, including authentication controls, granular sharing permissions, comprehensive reporting, detailed audit logs, and more. 

Contact us to learn how to replace your FTP solution with Box.


Explore a powerful FTP alternative


**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blog post is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.