In this section, the history, the terminology, and the FTP model are
discussed. The terms defined in this section are only those that
have special significance in FTP. Some of the terminology is very
specific to the FTP model; some readers may wish to turn to the
section on the FTP model while reviewing the terminology.
FTP has had a long evolution over the years. Appendix III is a
chronological compilation of Request for Comments documents
relating to FTP. These include the first proposed file transfer
mechanisms in 1971 that were developed for implementation on hosts
at M.I.T. (RFC 114), plus comments and discussion in RFC 141.
RFC 172 provided a user-level oriented protocol for file transfer
between host computers (including terminal IMPs). A revision of
this as RFC 265, restated FTP for additional review, while RFC 281
suggested further changes. The use of a "Set Data Type"
transaction was proposed in RFC 294 in January 1982.
RFC 354 obsoleted RFCs 264 and 265. The File Transfer Protocol
was now defined as a protocol for file transfer between HOSTs on
the ARPANET, with the primary function of FTP defined as
transfering files efficiently and reliably among hosts and
allowing the convenient use of remote file storage capabilities.
RFC 385 further commented on errors, emphasis points, and
additions to the protocol, while RFC 414 provided a status report
on the working server and user FTPs. RFC 430, issued in 1973,
(among other RFCs too numerous to mention) presented further
comments on FTP. Finally, an "official" FTP document was
published as RFC 454.
By July 1973, considerable changes from the last versions of FTP
were made, but the general structure remained the same. RFC 542
was published as a new "official" specification to reflect these
changes. However, many implementations based on the older
specification were not updated.
In 1974, RFCs 607 and 614 continued comments on FTP. RFC 624
proposed further design changes and minor modifications. In 1975,
RFC 686 entitled, "Leaving Well Enough Alone", discussed the
differences between all of the early and later versions of FTP.
RFC 691 presented a minor revision of RFC 686, regarding the
subject of print files.
Motivated by the transition from the NCP to the TCP as the
underlying protocol, a phoenix was born out of all of the above
efforts in RFC 765 as the specification of FTP for use on TCP.
This current edition of the FTP specification is intended to
correct some minor documentation errors, to improve the
explanation of some protocol features, and to add some new
In particular, the following new optional commands are included in
this edition of the specification:
CDUP - Change to Parent Directory
SMNT - Structure Mount
STOU - Store Unique
RMD - Remove Directory
MKD - Make Directory
PWD - Print Directory
SYST - System
This specification is compatible with the previous edition. A
program implemented in conformance to the previous specification
should automatically be in conformance to this specification.
The ASCII character set is as defined in the ARPA-Internet
Protocol Handbook. In FTP, ASCII characters are defined to be
the lower half of an eight-bit code set (i.e., the most
significant bit is zero).
Access controls define users' access privileges to the use of a
system, and to the files in that system. Access controls are
necessary to prevent unauthorized or accidental use of files.
It is the prerogative of a server-FTP process to invoke access
There are two byte sizes of interest in FTP: the logical byte
size of the file, and the transfer byte size used for the
transmission of the data. The transfer byte size is always 8
bits. The transfer byte size is not necessarily the byte size
in which data is to be stored in a system, nor the logical byte
size for interpretation of the structure of the data.
The communication path between the USER-PI and SERVER-PI for
the exchange of commands and replies. This connection follows
the Telnet Protocol.
A full duplex connection over which data is transferred, in a
specified mode and type. The data transferred may be a part of
a file, an entire file or a number of files. The path may be
between a server-DTP and a user-DTP, or between two
The passive data transfer process "listens" on the data port
for a connection from the active transfer process in order to
open the data connection.
The data transfer process establishes and manages the data
connection. The DTP can be passive or active.
The end-of-line sequence defines the separation of printing
lines. The sequence is Carriage Return, followed by Line Feed.
The end-of-file condition that defines the end of a file being
The end-of-record condition that defines the end of a record
A procedure that allows a user to recover from certain errors
such as failure of either host system or transfer process. In
FTP, error recovery may involve restarting a file transfer at a
A set of commands that comprise the control information flowing
from the user-FTP to the server-FTP process.
An ordered set of computer data (including programs), of
arbitrary length, uniquely identified by a pathname.
The mode in which data is to be transferred via the data
connection. The mode defines the data format during transfer
including EOR and EOF. The transfer modes defined in FTP are
described in the Section on Transmission Modes.
The Network Virtual Terminal as defined in the Telnet Protocol.
The Network Virtual File System. A concept which defines a
standard network file system with standard commands and
A file may be structured as a set of independent parts called
pages. FTP supports the transmission of discontinuous files as
independent indexed pages.
Pathname is defined to be the character string which must be
input to a file system by a user in order to identify a file.
Pathname normally contains device and/or directory names, and
file name specification. FTP does not yet specify a standard
pathname convention. Each user must follow the file naming
conventions of the file systems involved in the transfer.
The protocol interpreter. The user and server sides of the
protocol have distinct roles implemented in a user-PI and a
A sequential file may be structured as a number of contiguous
parts called records. Record structures are supported by FTP
but a file need not have record structure.
A reply is an acknowledgment (positive or negative) sent from
server to user via the control connection in response to FTP
commands. The general form of a reply is a completion code
(including error codes) followed by a text string. The codes
are for use by programs and the text is usually intended for
The data transfer process, in its normal "active" state,
establishes the data connection with the "listening" data port.
It sets up parameters for transfer and storage, and transfers
data on command from its PI. The DTP can be placed in a
"passive" state to listen for, rather than initiate a
connection on the data port.
A process or set of processes which perform the function of
file transfer in cooperation with a user-FTP process and,
possibly, another server. The functions consist of a protocol
interpreter (PI) and a data transfer process (DTP).
The server protocol interpreter "listens" on Port L for a
connection from a user-PI and establishes a control
communication connection. It receives standard FTP commands
from the user-PI, sends replies, and governs the server-DTP.
The data representation type used for data transfer and
storage. Type implies certain transformations between the time
of data storage and data transfer. The representation types
defined in FTP are described in the Section on Establishing
A person or a process on behalf of a person wishing to obtain
file transfer service. The human user may interact directly
with a server-FTP process, but use of a user-FTP process is
preferred since the protocol design is weighted towards
The data transfer process "listens" on the data port for a
connection from a server-FTP process. If two servers are
transferring data between them, the user-DTP is inactive.
A set of functions including a protocol interpreter, a data
transfer process and a user interface which together perform
the function of file transfer in cooperation with one or more
server-FTP processes. The user interface allows a local
language to be used in the command-reply dialogue with the
The user protocol interpreter initiates the control connection
from its port U to the server-FTP process, initiates FTP
commands, and governs the user-DTP if that process is part of
the file transfer.
2.3. THE FTP MODEL
With the above definitions in mind, the following model (shown in
Figure 1) may be diagrammed for an FTP service.
|| User || --------
||Interface|<--->| User |
---------- | | |
|/------\| FTP Commands |/----V----\|
||Server|<---------------->| User ||
|| PI || FTP Replies || PI ||
| | | | | |
-------- |/--V---\| Data |/----V----\| --------
| File |<--->|Server|<---------------->| User |<--->| File |
|System| || DTP || Connection || DTP || |System|
-------- |\------/| |\---------/| --------
NOTES: 1. The data connection may be used in either direction.
2. The data connection need not exist all of the time.
Figure 1 Model for FTP Use
In the model described in Figure 1, the user-protocol interpreter
initiates the control connection. The control connection follows
the Telnet protocol. At the initiation of the user, standard FTP
commands are generated by the user-PI and transmitted to the
server process via the control connection. (The user may
establish a direct control connection to the server-FTP, from a
TAC terminal for example, and generate standard FTP commands
independently, bypassing the user-FTP process.) Standard replies
are sent from the server-PI to the user-PI over the control
connection in response to the commands.
The FTP commands specify the parameters for the data connection
(data port, transfer mode, representation type, and structure) and
the nature of file system operation (store, retrieve, append,
delete, etc.). The user-DTP or its designate should "listen" on
the specified data port, and the server initiate the data
connection and data transfer in accordance with the specified
parameters. It should be noted that the data port need not be in
the same host that initiates the FTP commands via the control
connection, but the user or the user-FTP process must ensure a
"listen" on the specified data port. It ought to also be noted
that the data connection may be used for simultaneous sending and
In another situation a user might wish to transfer files between
two hosts, neither of which is a local host. The user sets up
control connections to the two servers and then arranges for a
data connection between them. In this manner, control information
is passed to the user-PI but data is transferred between the
server data transfer processes. Following is a model of this
Control ------------ Control
---------->| User-FTP |<-----------
| | User-PI | |
| | "C" | |
V ------------ V
| Server-FTP | Data Connection | Server-FTP |
| "A" |<---------------------->| "B" |
-------------- Port (A) Port (B) --------------
The protocol requires that the control connections be open while
data transfer is in progress. It is the responsibility of the
user to request the closing of the control connections when
finished using the FTP service, while it is the server who takes
the action. The server may abort data transfer if the control
connections are closed without command.
The Relationship between FTP and Telnet:
The FTP uses the Telnet protocol on the control connection.
This can be achieved in two ways: first, the user-PI or the
server-PI may implement the rules of the Telnet Protocol
directly in their own procedures; or, second, the user-PI or
the server-PI may make use of the existing Telnet module in the
Ease of implementaion, sharing code, and modular programming
argue for the second approach. Efficiency and independence
argue for the first approach. In practice, FTP relies on very
little of the Telnet Protocol, so the first approach does not
necessarily involve a large amount of code.