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The `ftp` Command in Linux: Dive into Classic FTP

Understanding the ftp Command

General Syntax:


Classic FTP: A Word on Security

Classic FTP isn't secure by nature. Here's why:

  • Unencrypted Transmission: FTP does not encrypt its traffic; all transmissions are in clear text, which means usernames, passwords, commands, and data can be captured using packet sniffers if intercepted during transmission.

  • No Integrity or Confidentiality: Without encryption or secure tunnels, there's no guarantee of the confidentiality or integrity of the data being transferred.

This is why alternatives like SFTP (Secure FTP) and FTPS (FTP Secure) came into existence to ensure encrypted, secure file transfers.

Anonymous FTP Servers

Anonymous FTP servers are special FTP servers that allow users to log in without a username and password, typically using the username "anonymous" and one's email address as the password. These servers are meant for public distribution, making it easier to share or distribute files without the need for authentication.

However, anonymous FTP can pose a risk. Malicious actors can upload harmful or misleading content if the server allows upload access. It's crucial to ensure that anonymous FTP servers are well maintained and monitored.

4. Using the ftp Command:



This will connect to the FTP server at

Once connected, you're in the FTP client's interactive mode and can issue various commands.

Interactive FTP Commands

Here's a table of some of the commonly used interactive FTP commands:

!Executes a shell command without leaving FTP.
?Display local help information.
asciiSet ASCII transfer mode.
binarySet binary transfer mode.
cd [DIRECTORY]Change the server's current directory.
closeClose the current connection.
delete [FILENAME]Delete a file on the server.
get [FILENAME]Download a file from the server.
lsList the files in the current server directory.
mget [PATTERN]Download multiple files matching the pattern.
mkdir [DIRECTORY]Create a directory on the server.
put [FILENAME]Upload a file to the server.
quitExit the FTP client.
rename [OLD] [NEW]Rename a file on the server.
rmdir [DIRECTORY]Remove a directory on the server.

Connecting to Debian's Public FTP Server

For the sake of this demonstration, we'll be using a well-known public FTP server provided by Debian. This FTP server is publicly accessible and primarily used for distribution of Debian software. Please note that it's vital always to ensure you respect the terms of use for any FTP server you're connecting to.

Open a terminal and start the FTP program


You will be connected to the server. By default, you'll be connected as an anonymous user. If needed, it might prompt for a username and password, but for public servers, you can usually just use "anonymous" as the username and your email address as the password.

List files and directories

Once connected, use the ls command:


This will display the content of the default directory. You will see directories like debian, which contains Debian software and releases.

Let's navigate into the debian directory:

cd debian

And list its content:


You'll see directories for various Debian releases and other related files.

Download a file

For the sake of demonstration, let's pick a small file to download. Navigate to a directory containing some small text files or other lightweight content. Here's a potential sequence:

cd doc

Now, let's assume there's a file named README. To download it:


This will download the README file to your local machine in the directory from which you started the FTP client.

Exiting the FTP client

Once you're done exploring, you can disconnect and exit the FTP client with:


Important Note: When connecting to public FTP servers, it's crucial to be aware of the files you're downloading, especially if you plan to execute them. Stick to reputable sources and always verify the integrity of downloaded files if possible.


While the ftp command is an essential part of Linux's historical networking tools, its security limitations make it less suitable for many of today's applications. Always consider the security implications and, when possible, opt for secure alternatives like SFTP or FTPS. However, understanding the classic FTP program remains valuable for interacting with legacy systems and specific use cases. Always refer to man ftp for a comprehensive look at its functionality.

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