How to Set up an FTP Server

Geek!This is Adam Marchesich’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

The main advantage of a home FTP server over a Web server is that you can save files to the FTP server, whereas with a Web server, you can only get (receive, download) files. The disadvantage of a home FTP server is that you need an FTP client to connect to it, whereas Web servers can be accessed using a plain old Web browser. However, many modern Web browsers support FTP. That said, most Web browsers make poor FTP clients. You should use a more fully-featured FTP client to connect to your server. There are plenty available, and everybody seems to have their favorite. If you’re wondering how to set up your own FTP server, you’ve likely already selected your favorite FTP client.

What you’ll need:

  • A Windows PC
  • An always-on broadband (DSL or cable) internet connection

Step 1: Download and install Serv-U FTP.

Serv-U FTP is a nice windows FTP server app that’s been around for years — I’ve used it since 1997 and it works flawlessly. The newest version adds more security through SSL support – and the best part of all is that the personal version which allows for two FTP logins is completely free.

Now, don’t get confused because they have several levels of pricing and several editions. Once installed, you will have a “corporate edition” that after thirty days will become the “personal edition.”

Step 2: Complete setup and create a user login.

After the initial setup is done, Serv-U should start the administrator and ask you to create a new user account. Start off by first putting in the domain name you used to setup your dynamic DNS. To keep your FTP server for your own use, be sure to disable Anonymous access by selecting “No” when asked.

When it asks for your Home Directory, it’s probably best to just say C: for your home Windows machine. This will give you easy access to any file on the main drive. Be sure you say “No” to locking your own user in the home directory, otherwise you might not be allowed to switch to other drives.

Step 3: Grant proper rights to any drives you have.

When you are done creating a new user account, start the FTP server and the Serv-U Administrator application. Expand the Domains tree to show your server, then the Users tree to find your account. With your user selected, click the Dir Access tab on the right pane.

Highlight the drive letter and fill all the checkboxes on the right side except for “Execute”. This will give you total access to upload, download, delete, create, and make any directory changes as well. If you’re nervous about your account having too much access, you can probably get away with just read or read and write access for most things. Also be sure to add any other drives on your computer (I have a second hard drive with the letter E: on mine).

Step 4: Be sure you have outside access to your new FTP server.

Like many of you reading this, I have a router / firewall / wireless access point at home that shares my broadband connection with every internet device in the house. Most router / firewall / wireless points hand out internal IP addresses and keep your computers safely away from outside access, but if you’re running your own FTP or Web server at home, you’ll want to poke a hole in the firewall and map port 21 to your home computer running Serv-U.

For regular FTP connections, map port 21 to your computer, for secure FTP connections, map port 990 to your computer on the network (or just map both).

Step 5: Test it.

The last thing to do is to test your FTP server by firing up a FTP client and try connecting to your own server. Even though you are using the very computer you are testing, if you try to FTP using the outside address (your dynamic DNS name), it will be exactly like connecting from the outside.

When you connect to it the first time, you might get a warning about a bogus certificate provided by Serv-U. Just set your FTP program to always trust it and you won’t see this warning again.

That’s it. Now you’ll never forget a file at home because anything on your home computer will be accessible from anywhere else on earth.

[Editor’s Note: Mac OS X has FTP server functionality baked into the operating system, and it’s far less complex to set up and operate]