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FTP for translators April 20, 2012

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Tech tips.

There was a brief discussion about FTP on one of my listservs yesterday. The translator had received instructions from her client telling her to log onto their FTP server to access some files. She was confused about the concept of Explorer and Internet Explorer (which are two completely different animals) and needed some guidance from her listmates. I thought it might be a good idea to quickly explain what FTP is to readers who may not be aware of FTP or are new to the industry.

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. FTP is a standard network protocol used to transfer files from one host to another host over a TCP-based network, such as the Internet. In many cases, it is often used to upload web pages and other documents from a home (or work) computer to a public web-hosting server. However, in our industry clients use them when their files are too large to send over e-mail, since some e-mail servers have restrictions. The translator is given the address and a username and the password to log onto the server and download the files.

An FTP server is not a website. You can access an FTP server through a web browser, which is what the client instructed the translator to do, but this created the confusion. She was told to use Internet Explorer, because some browsers such as Chrome or Firefox do not recognize the ftp:// command. For instance, you need to install a plug-in (FireFTP) in order to access FTP through Firefox. Your best bet is to use an FTP client, such as FileZilla or BulletProofFTP (I currently use SmartFTP and have used CuteFTP, and WS_FTP in the past). Cyberduck is a free, open-source FTP client for Mac OS X. Another option (for those  who are comfortable with DOS prompts) is to call up the DOS prompt and enter the FTP command. Most FTP clients have a “paste URL” that automatically routes you to the link the client gives you. All you have to do is enter the username and password (and possibly the port if it isn’t the standard 21).

One thing to keep in mind is that FTP was not designed to be a secure protocol—especially by today’s standards—and has many security weaknesses. FTP is not able to encrypt its traffic; all transmissions are in clear text, and usernames, passwords, commands and data can be easily read by anyone able to perform packet capture on the network. The chance of someone intercepting your transmission is miniscule, but you should only access FTP sites that you know are reliable. That said, I doubt that this is a problem that our clients have. It is more an issue if you are blindly surfing the web for illegal content, which you should never do.

Happy translating!



1. thx84 - April 20, 2012


I just wanted to correct that I have no issues connecting to a FTP server using only Firefox. Maybe they changed something in the latest updates.

This topic is really on point. I worked in a translation agency and clients/translators often struggle to use properly our FTP server

2. Stefan Gentz - April 20, 2012

I can recommend FileZilla, too. What I love is the account management a the possibility to export/import the accounts to an XML file. That makes it easy to backup settings and deploy it in the company. On the other hand it’s missing shortcuts for easy file up- and downloads.

Regarding security: Are you aware of SFTP and FTPS?

Jill (@bonnjill) - April 20, 2012

Since a lot of translators have trouble with FTP, as evidenced by the comments by agency employees so far, talking about SFTP and FTPS would have made their heads explode. 🙂 I chose to pick my battle.

3. thx84 - April 20, 2012

Thanks for your article. I work in a translation agency and working with FTP server is a big issue (besides Trados crashing) as both translators and clients have trouble using it.

By the way, I can connect to a FTP server from Firefox without using an extension. Maybe they changed something since you last reviewed it.

4. Amenel - April 21, 2012

Jill, I am impressed with how good your technical knowledge is. As a computer scientist, I know protocols can seem arcane. Great post.

Jill (@bonnjill) - April 21, 2012

Thanks, Amenel. I specialize in medical and computer texts, so I would hope my technical knowledge is good. I once translated a 20 page FTP manual in a day because I’ve been using FTP since 1995. It was one of the easiest translation jobs I have ever had. 🙂

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