How to use FTP from the Linux Command Line

folder_downloadsYou can use the ftp command to talk to an FTP server from the Linux Command Line. Type ftp to see if the tool is installed. If you get a “command not found” message then go ahead and type yum install ftp to make it available on your system.

Using it is very straightforward – but I keep forgetting how because I only do it once in a blue moon. So here’s a handy cheat sheet:

Logging in to your FTP Server

Assuming our site is example.com, simply type this:

ftp example.com

Connected to example (12.34.56.78).
220 FTP-Example
Name:

This will connect you, but the system wants to know the username and password at the prompt. Provide those and if your login was successful you’ll see something like this:

230 User tester logged in
Remote system type is UNIX.
Using binary mode to transfer files.
ftp>

Note that you’re now at the FTP command line and no longer on the Linux command line (you can tell by the ftp> in front of the cursor). Therefore only FTP commands are now accepted, until you type “exit” or “bye” to go back to Linux.

To see a list of available commands type help and you’ll see a list much like this:

Commands may be abbreviated.  Commands are:

!		debug		mdir		sendport	site
$		dir		mget		put		size
account		disconnect	mkdir		pwd		status
append		exit		mls		quit		struct
ascii		form		mode		quote		system
bell		get		modtime		recv		sunique
binary		glob		mput		reget		tenex
bye		hash		newer		rstatus		tick
case		help		nmap		rhelp		trace
cd		idle		nlist		rename		type
cdup		image		ntrans		reset		user
chmod		lcd		open		restart		umask
close		ls		prompt		rmdir		verbose
cr		macdef		passive		runique		?
delete		mdelete		proxy		send

No need to panic: The good news is that we don’t really use a plethora of new commands, and some (like ls and mkdir) are working the same way, just the output may look a bit different.

Let’s go through a few common scenarios now: listing and creating directories, uploading, downloading, and deleting files. Classic CRUD – FTP Style.

If you ever need to come out of a running command, CMD-D (or CTRL-D) will do the trick.

Listing and Switching Directories

Your usual Linux favourites will work fine to list and switch directories:

ls (list directory, same as dir)
cd (change into directory, for example “cd mydir”)
cd .. (move one directory up in the tree)

Excellent: nothing new to learn here. Result!

Creating and Deleting Directories

Another nice thing is that mkdir is still working to create a directory. Here’s how we create a directory called test:

mkdir test

257 "/test" - Directory successfully created

Likewise, rmdir does a good job at deleting (empty) directories:

rmdir test

250 RMD command successful

To delete a directory that contains files you must first remove all files (see below under Deleting Files) and then use this command.

Downloading Files

To download a single file we can use the get command (or recv if you can remember it better). You must type out the entire file name for this to work, and you won’t get a progress report while your file downloads:

get testfile.tar

local: testfile.tar remote: testfile.tar
227 Entering Passive Mode (81,169,163,229,179,131)
150 Opening BINARY mode data connection for testfile.tar (86365356 bytes)
226 Transfer complete
86365356 bytes received in 11 secs (7865.17 Kbytes/sec)

This will save testfile.tar in the Linux directory that you were before you initiated the FTP session.

To save files in a directory other than the current one, I’m afraid you’re going to have to log out, cd into the directory you want those files to go, then re-connect. I know, ultra lame – but if there is another way then it’s kept so secret that no Google search will ever unveil it.

Sadly wildcards are no working in this operation, so you’ll always have to type out the exact file name. Lucky for us you CAN use wildcards to download multiple files with mget, like this:

mget test*

Now all files starting with “test” are downloaded and you’ll be prompted one by one. This will work for single files too and saves you having to type out cryptic long names. Human 1 – FTP 0. Ha!

Uploading Files

put and mput work just like get, but they upload local files to the current FTP directory. You can specify a local Linux path when doing this, but put and mput expect a local path to also exist on the FTP remote (and fail if they don’t). Read: messy. There probably is a way to deal with this, but life’s just too short.

Just like get, put also needs the whole file name and cannot deal with wildcards – but mput does:

mput test*

mput testfile.tar? y
227 Entering Passive Mode (81,169,163,229,218,225)
150 Opening BINARY mode data connection for testfile.tar
226 Transfer complete
236716 bytes sent in 0.0141 secs (16825.36 Kbytes/sec)

Deleting Files

There’s also a delete and mdelete command which – you guessed it – removes unwanted files from the server. Same as before: no wildcards on delete, but they work fine on mdelete:

mdelete test*

mdelete testfile.tar? y
250 DELE command successful

Alternatives

FTP transfers all files and passwords “in the clear” and does not work with encryption. Checkout the sftp command which will do all of this and more while using encryption on all transfers.

Note that there is a difference between SFTP and FTPS: the latter (FTPS) is the same as FTP but with encryption added to it. SFTP isn’t really FTP at all, it’s an SSH connection that works much like rsync and scp, and uses similar syntax.

Further Reading





Jay is the CEO and founder of WP Hosting, a boutique style managed WordPress hosting and support service. He has been working with Plesk since version 9 and is a qualified Parallels Automation Professional. In his spare time he likes to develop iOS apps and WordPress plugins, or draw on tablet devices. He blogs about his coding journey at http://wpguru.co.uk and http://pinkstone.co.uk.