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FTP Clients - Part 1: Web Browser Support

FTP Clients - Part 1: Web Browser Support

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Since we've been testing a lot of FTP clients with our new FTP server for IIS 7, I thought that it would be a good idea to discuss some of the highlights and pitfalls that we have run into when testing various clients.

I thought that I'd begin this series with an examination of several web browsers, which are really not the best FTP clients around - web browsers are mostly just "putting a pretty face" on an FTP site rather than functioning as an FTP client. In any event, here's a summary table of different features that I tested with a few web browsers:

Client Name Directory
Browsing
Explicit
FTPS
Implicit
FTPS
Virtual
Hosts
True
HOSTs
FireFox 3.0.2 (Mozilla) Rich N N Y N
Google Chrome 0.2.149 (Beta) Basic N N Y N
Internet Explorer 7.0 Basic N N Y N
Opera 9.5.2 Rich N N Y N

See the individual client notes below for more information on each client.

Firefox 3.0.2

Directory Browsing:
Some older Firefox versions only worked with UNIX directory listings - you could not use MS-DOS directory listings. That said, I was able to use version 3.0.2 with MS-DOS directory listings but only when I did not enable four-digit years; if you enable four-digit years, Firefox will only display blank directory listings.
 
Outside of that problem, Firefox has a great user experience for browsing FTP sites that's very reminiscent of Apache's Fancy Indexing feature for directories that have no home page.
FTP SSL/TLS:
SSL connections cannot be created by this client.
Virtual Hosts:
You can create a connection to an FTP7 virtual host only if a "Global Listener" FTP site is created that requires authentication, after which you can enter the "sitename|username" syntax to connect to the virtual host. There is no method for entering custom commands, so HOST does not work.
Observations:
One really odd thing that Firefox does is allow you to keep hitting the "Up to a higher level directory" link and it just keeps appending ".." to the path. That's really odd, and it doesn't seem to break anything, but it sure is annoying.



One last annoyance is that my default installation of Firefox cached the directory listings from the FTP server in between sessions. So I used Firefox to browse an FTP site, then completely closed Firefox, then when I came back I saw directory listings from my previous session instead of updated directory listings until I forced a refresh.

Internet Explorer 7.0

Directory Browsing:
Internet Explorer works with both MS-DOS and UNIX directory listings. But that being said, Internet Explorer's FTP browsing experience is completely no-frills - it's an ugly "What You Have Is What You See" approach to viewing your FTP site. (In fact, it looks a lot like the built-in IIS directory browsing pages.)



That being said, Internet Explorer works with both MS-DOS and UNIX directory listings, and has no trouble with four-digit years like Firefox.
FTP SSL/TLS:
SSL connections cannot be created by this client.
Virtual Hosts:
You can create a connection to an FTP7 virtual host only if a "Global Listener" FTP site is created that requires authentication, after which you can enter the "sitename|username" syntax to connect to the virtual host. There is no method for entering custom commands, so HOST does not work.
Observations:
A truly great feature of Internet Explorer's FTP browsing experience is the "Open FTP Site in Windows Explorer" integration, where you can switch from the web browser representation to a full Read/Write Windows Explorer view of your site.



One last annoyance is that Internet Explorer cached the directory listings from the FTP server in between sessions just like Firefox. If I completely closed Internet Explorer and reopened it I saw FTP directory listings from my previous session instead of updated directory listings until I forced a refresh. (Something about that just doesn't seem right. :-O)

Google Chrome 0.2.149 (Beta)

Directory Browsing:
In case you thought that Internet Explorer's FTP browsing experience was pretty basic, Google Chrome's browsing experience is even simpler than IE's.



That being said, Google Chrome seemed to work with both MS-DOS and UNIX directory listings, and had no trouble with four-digit years.
FTP SSL/TLS:
SSL connections cannot be created by this client.
Virtual Hosts:
You can create a connection to an FTP7 virtual host only if a "Global Listener" FTP site is created that requires authentication, after which you can enter the "sitename|username" syntax to connect to the virtual host. There is no method for entering custom commands, so HOST does not work.
Observations:
Part of me is inclined to cut Google Chrome a little slack on their display since this is their first browser and it's still only in beta. ;-)

Opera 9.5.2

Directory Browsing:
Much like Firefox, Opera has a rich FTP browsing experience:



The only downside to the directory browsing experience is slow the speed that it took to connect to the server and render the directory listing. I eventually got tired of waiting and stopped testing it before I could play around with the MS-DOS versus UNIX and other directory browsing settings.
FTP SSL/TLS:
SSL connections cannot be created by this client.
Virtual Hosts:
You can create a connection to an FTP7 virtual host only if a "Global Listener" FTP site is created that requires authentication, after which you can enter the "sitename|username" syntax to connect to the virtual host. There is no method for entering custom commands, so HOST does not work.
Observations:
As mentioned in the directory browsing notes earlier, Opera's FTP browsing experience was incredibly slow for me. I didn't make any changes to Opera at first - I simply used the default installation and it would take an inordinate amount of time to connect to the server; often the Opera browser would simply switch to "Not Responding" and I would have to end the task from Task Manager.

Summary

As far as web browsers are concerned, they're not great FTP clients. That being said, here's my thoughts on their respective experiences:

  • Directory Browsing:
    • Best: Firefox 3.0.2, Opera 9.5.2
    • Worst: Google Chrome 0.2.149 (Beta), Internet Explorer 7.0
  • Performance:
    • Best: Firefox 3.0.2, Google Chrome 0.2.149 (Beta), Internet Explorer 7.0
    • Worst: Opera 9.5.2
  • Shell Integration:
    • Only Internet Explorer 7.0 had shell integration, which enables true Read/Write FTP capabilities
  • FTP SSL/TLS:
    • None of the four web browsers that I tested had FTP SSL/TLS capabilities
  • Virtual Hosts:
    • All four web browsers that I tested could use FTP7 virtual hosts

In the next part of this series, I'll start taking a look at some specific FTP clients.

Comments
  • This is my "virtual handshake". Nice to meet you :)

    Cheers

  • Apart from the browsers, please also check stuff like the .NET Framework FTP client (FtpWebRequest) - search on Microsoft Connect for "FtpWebRequest" to see what I mean...

  • I’ve been working with this a lot recently and thought I’d share some of what I found with you. You'll

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