I was recently tasked with improving the workflow of a process that involved using FTP to upload files to a server. The main part of the workflow that needed reworked was making the interaction with the FTP server more user-friendly/idiot-proof. In researching and accomplishing this task, I uncovered a few tools that warranted mentioning here so that it might help others that find this article. These tools are not full-blown clients, they are simplified means of interacting with an FTP server. If you’re looking for a full-blown client, I recommend FileZilla.
DropUpLoad is very simple. You simply fire up the 276KB executable (no installation necessary), configure it to point to a directory on your FTP server, and then drag-and-drop any files onto the program window to have them uploaded to the server. The files are simply copied to the server at the directory you have it pointing to. It does not provide a list of files on the server or provide you with the ability to delete files. If you are uploading a file with the same name as a file on the server, it will replace the file on the server without warning. There is also an option to have the file zipped automatically before uploading.
DropUpLoad is actually a product that I have come back to for personal use. It has a very neat feature that allows you to create a locked, pre-configured version of the application should you need to provide clients or friends with the ability to upload a file to your FTP server. This way you don’t have to give them the user name and password to connect to the server. Regardless of the fact that they could easily obtain the user name and password by monitoring packets with WireShark due to the fact that FTP is an insecure protocol, this way they do not have to configure a more complicated (while more powerful) FTP client like FileZilla, my preferred FTP client.
FtpDropper is another quick drag-and-drop application for Windows. Its only requirement is .NET Framework 2. Download the 170KB setup file for version 1.0.0 beta 3 and run through the very quick setup file. When it completes, it will launch a configuration tool. Fill this out with your FTP connection information and the directory where you want uploaded files to land. You can configure a number of servers and directory combinations.
To create an upload drop-off for this server that you just configured, select the connection in the left-hand side and then go to the ‘Create Shortcut’ menu and select the location where you want the shortcut. To upload a file, just drag it to the shortcut. A window will pop-up and show you the status of the upload. A could-be-useful feature of FtpDropper is that it generates an HTML receipt of each upload. If you’re interested in tracking uploads or verifying that they were received, this could be very helpful.
RightLoad offers a similar drag and drop service like DropUpload and FtpDropper, but offers a few other services that make it unique. Just download and run the 3.2 MB setup file to run through a slightly more involved setup process (the cost of having more options) choosing the options that you want. There are some cool plugins that you can choose in these options, allowing easy upload access to Facebook, Flicker, and ImageShack. You can also have the program automatically resize or create thumbnails of any images you upload. If you stick with the plain install, you’ll get the usual configuration page we’ve seen before.
Besides the drag-and-drop option, RightLoad also offers a context menu option where you can just right-click on a file and direct which server and which directory to end up at, or just add it to the queue for later.
Unfortunately, the above products didn’t quite work for me because the particular server in the workflow used SSH SFTP, which none of the above could connect to even though RightLoad lists SFTP (SSH) access as experimental. The following two products, ExpanDrive and WebDrive, were able to connect to SSH SFTP servers, but they are not free. Fortunately for me, through a licensing deal with my University, I actually have a full license to WebDrive.
ExpanDrive (and the following products) take a different approach than the previous products we’ve discussed. Instead of having an application or shortcut to drag-and-drop files to, it creates a seemingly always-on connection to the server in the form of a Networked drive. Just like a mapped drive to a server share on the LAN, the FTP connection suddenly becomes a lot more familiar to people. In addition, you can do many more tasks than just upload and overwrite files: you can see everything in the directory, navigate to sub-folders, delete or rename files, and other typical things. It has the typical configuration page as the other services with the option to automatically connect at logon and the option to select which drive letter you want the server to go to. Just to clarify, you are not limited to just one server at a time. You might configure a few different drive letters just to connect to different directories on the same server.
ExpanDrive uses a 10MB service that runs in the background to achieve this connection and with it comes this magnet icon in the system tray. The tray icon’s context menu gives you various options like configuring preferences, opening a particular drive or ending the service.
WebDrive is almost identical to ExpanDrive. You run through the setup and then configure your server connection and what drive letter in which you want it to mount. You can configure per drive letter if it should reconnect at login.
After it’s been configured you can find the drive in the same location, but with a more colorful icon. It also has an icon of the same logo in the system tray which allows more functionality than the ExpanDrive menu.
WebDrive has been the solution to my workflow and it seems the workflow has been much improved by not having to explain and document a complicated FTP client nor worrying about all the things they might do accidentally.
NetDrive uses the same approach as ExpanDrive and WebDrive and best of all is free for home usage.