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RFC 1635 - How to Use Anonymous FTP


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Network Working Group                                         P. Deutsch
Request for Comments: 1635                                     A. Emtage
FYI: 24                                                           Bunyip
Category: Informational                                        A. Marine
                                                               NASA NAIC
                                                                May 1994

                        How to Use Anonymous FTP

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  This memo
   does not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of
   this memo is unlimited.

Abstract

   This document provides information for the novice Internet user about
   using the File Transfer Protocol (FTP).  It explains what FTP is,
   what anonymous FTP is, and what an anonymous FTP archive site is.  It
   shows a sample anonymous FTP session.  It also discusses common ways
   files are packaged for efficient storage and transmission.

Acknowledgements

   This document is the result of work done in the Internet Anonymous
   FTP Archives (IAFA) working group of the IETF.  Special thanks are
   due to Mark Baushke (Cisco), John Curran (BBN), Aydin Edguer (CWRU),
   Rafal Maszkowski (Onsala Space Observatory), Marsha Perrott
   (PREPnet), Bob Peterson (Texas Instruments), Nathan Torkington
   (Victoria University of Wellington), and Stephen Tihor (NYU) for
   excellent comments and contributions.

What is FTP?

   FTP refers to the File Transfer Protocol [1], one of the protocols
   within the TCP/IP protocol suite used on the Internet.  The File
   Transfer Protocol makes it possible to transfer files from one
   computer (or host) on the Internet to another.  There are many FTP
   implementations built on the specification of the FTP protocol.  A
   user of an FTP program must log in to both hosts in order to transfer
   a file from one to the other.

   It is common for a user with files on more than one host to use the
   FTP program to transfer files from one host to another.  In this
   case, the user has an account on both hosts involved, so he has
   passwords for both hosts.

   However, Internet users may also take advantage of a wealth of
   information available from archive sites by using a general purpose
   account called "anonymous FTP".

What is an Archive Site?

   An archive site is a host that acts as a repository of information,
   much like a conventional library.  Information stored on these
   Internet hosts is made available for users to transfer to their local
   sites.  Users run software to identify this information and transfer
   it to their own hosts.  Such a transfer is done with a program that
   implements the File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

What is Anonymous FTP?

   Anonymous FTP is a means by which archive sites allow general access
   to their archives of information.  These sites create a special
   account called "anonymous".  User "anonymous" has limited access
   rights to the archive host, as well as some operating restrictions.
   In fact, the only operations allowed are logging in using FTP,
   listing the contents of a limited set of directories, and retrieving
   files.  Some sites limit the contents of a directory listing an
   anonymous user can see as well.  Note that "anonymous" users are not
   usually allowed to transfer files TO the archive site, but can only
   retrieve files from such a site.

   Traditionally, this special anonymous user account accepts any string
   as a password, although it is common to use either the password
   "guest" or one's electronic mail (e-mail) address.  Some archive
   sites now explicitly ask for the user's e-mail address and will not
   allow login with the "guest" password.  Providing an e-mail address
   is a courtesy that allows archive site operators to get some idea of
   who is using their services.

What Information Do You Need to Know?

   To retrieve a specific file, a user needs to know what host it is on,
   and the pathname of the file.  A pathname tells the directory (and
   possibly subdirectories) that house the file, and the name of the
   file.  Often discussions of available files will not specifically
   say, "This file is available for anonymous FTP from X host with Y
   pathname".  However, if a file is publicly announced as available and
   referred to as something like pub/good-stuff on nisc.sri.com, it is a
   good assumption that you can try to transfer it.

   You may also need to know if your machine uses an ASCII, EBCDIC, or
   other character set to know how likely a transfer of binary
   information will work, or whether such a transfer will require other

   keywords, such as is true for TENEX.

   In the general case, you may assume that an ASCII transfer will
   always do the right thing for plain text files.  However, more and
   more information is being stored in various compressed formats (which
   are discussed later in this document), so knowing the binary
   characteristics of your machine may be important.

A Sample Session

   To start an FTP session on a UNIX or VMS host, you type "ftp" and the
   host name or host IP address of the machine to which you want to
   connect.  For example, if you wish to access the NASA Network
   Applications and Information Center archive site, you would normally
   execute one of the following commands at the UNIX prompt:

           ftp naic.nasa.gov
   or
           ftp 128.102.128.6

   Observe that the first form uses the fully-qualified domain name and
   the second uses the Internet address for the same host.

   The following is an example of connecting to the naic.nasa.gov host
   to retrieve STD 9, RFC 959, "File Transfer Protocol (FTP)" [1].

   Note several things about the session.

    1. Every response the FTP program at the archive site gives
       is preceded by a number.  These numbers are called
       Reply Codes and are defined in the FTP specification,
       RFC 959.  The text that accompanies these reply codes
       can vary in different FTP implementations, and usually does.

       Also note that some FTP client implementations (e.g., MVS
       systems) may not echo the reply codes or text as
       transmitted from the remote host.  They may generate their
       own status lines or just hide the non-fatal replies
       from you.  For the purposes of this document, the more
       popular UNIX interface to the FTP client will be
       presented.

    2. The password you type is never shown on your screen.

    3. It is possible to "browse" in archives, but most often users
       already know the pathname of the file they want.  The pathname
       for RFC 959 on this host is files/rfc/rfc959.txt.  In the

       example, we first connect to the 'files/rfc' directory (cd
       files/rfc), then get the specific file we know we want.  If you
       do not know the name of the file you want, a file called README
       or something similar (00README.1ST, AAREAD.ME, INDEX, etc.) is
       probably the one to retrieve first.

   atlas.arc.nasa.gov% ftp naic.nasa.gov
   Connected to naic.nasa.gov.
   220 naic.nasa.gov FTP server (Wed May 4 12:15:15 PDT 1994) ready.
   Name (naic.nasa.gov:amarine): anonymous
   331 Guest login ok, send your complete e-mail address as password.
   Password:
   230-----------------------------------------------------------------
   230-Welcome to the NASA Network Applications and Info Center Archive
   230-
   230-     Access to NAIC's online services is also available through:
   230-
   230-        Gopher         - naic.nasa.gov (port 70)
   230-    World-Wide-Web - http://naic.nasa.gov/naic/naic-home.html
   230-
   230-        If you experience any problems please send email to
   230-
   230-                    naic@nasa.gov
   230-
   230-                 or call +1 (800) 858-9947
   230-----------------------------------------------------------------
   230-
   230-Please read the file README
   230-  it was last modified on Fri Dec 10 13:06:33 1993 - 165 days ago
   230 Guest login ok, access restrictions apply.
   ftp> cd files/rfc
   250-Please read the file README.rfc
   250-  it was last modified on Fri Jul 30 16:47:29 1993 - 298 days ago
   250 CWD command successful.
   ftp> get rfc959.txt
   200 PORT command successful.
   150 Opening ASCII mode data connection for rfc959.txt (147316 bytes).
   226 Transfer complete.
   local: rfc959.txt remote: rfc959.txt
   151249 bytes received in 0.9 seconds (1.6e+02 Kbytes/s)
   ftp> quit
   221 Goodbye.
   atlas.arc.nasa.gov%

Variations

   The above example is of the FTP program available on UNIX systems.
   Other operating systems also make FTP programs available.  The actual
   commands you type may vary somewhat with other programs.  However, in
   general, you will do the following with every FTP program:

     - Log in to your local host, and invoke the FTP program.

     - Open a connection to the host (using either the host name
       or its IP address)

     - Once connected to the remote host, log in with username
       "anonymous".

     - Provide either the password "guest" or whatever the password the
       site requests.

     - Issue whatever FTP commands you require, such as those to
       change directories or to retrieve a file.

     - When finished, exit the FTP program, which will close your
       connection to the archive host.

Friendly Servers

   These days, many sites are using a form of FTP that allows them to
   display several lines of explanatory text that help direct users
   through their archive.  The listing of alternative services on
   naic.nasa.gov is an example.  If these effusive servers confuse the
   client you are using, try typing a hyphen ( - ) before your password
   when you log in.  That should disable the verbose mode of the server.

Other FTP Commands

   We have demonstrated some of the commands available with FTP
   programs.  Many others are possible.  For example, once you have
   logged in to a remote host:

     - You may ask the FTP program to display a list of available
       commands, typically by invoking the FTP program without
       arguments and typing "help".

     - You may view the contents of the directory to which you are
       connected.  Type "dir" or "ls" to do so.

     - You may rename a file by using the "get" command's
       optional local file name, which follows the remote file

       name on the command line.  You probably should rename a
       file when the remote file name exceeds your local file
       system's naming constraints, e.g., if the remote file
       name is too long.  An example of using the "get" command
       to rename a file when transferring it might be "get
       really-long-named-file.txt short.txt".

     - You may set BINARY mode to transfer executable programs or files
       of data.  Type "binary" to do so.  Usually
       FTP programs assume files use only 7 bits per byte, the norm for
       standard ASCII-encoded files.  The BINARY command allows you to
       transfer files that use the full 8 bits per byte without error,
       but this may have implications on how the file is transferred
       to your local system.

       If you are not sure what format a file is in, you may need to
       transfer it a second time in the other mode (BINARY or ASCII)
       if your first guess is wrong.  The extension at the end of the
       file name may give you a clue.  File name extensions are
       described below.

       Because some machines store text files differently than others,
       you may have to try your luck if you're not sure what format
       a file is in.  A good guess is to try ASCII mode first, if
       you have grounds to suspect the file is a text file.  Otherwise,
       try BINARY mode.  Try TENEX mode as a last resort.

     - You may transfer multiple files at the same time.  To set this
       mode, type "mget".  You then supply a file name pattern that
       the remote system understands and it tries to transfer each
       file in turn.  If your local FTP user agent cannot transform
       the remote file names into legal local file names, or if there
       are some files that must be transferred in ASCII mode and others
       that must be transferred in BINARY mode, you may not be able to
       take advantage of this facility.

   Full details on the commands and options available are in the FTP
   documentation that comes with your system.  You can also type "help"
   at the FTP command prompt for a list of command options.

   A copy of the UNIX version of the FTP documentation is available from
   the online manual.  If your UNIX site has the manuals installed, type
   the following at the UNIX prompt:

           % man ftp

The Packaging and Naming of Files

   Several widely used conventions allow for efficient storage and
   transmission of information stored at archive sites.

   Information stored on archive sites is often "transformed" in three
   common ways.  "Compressing" (reducing the size of) the stored
   information makes more space available on the archive, and reduces
   the amount of data actually transferred across the network.
   "Bundling" several files into one larger file maintains the internal
   directory structure of the components, and allows users to transfer
   only one larger object rather than several (sometimes hundreds) of
   smaller files.

   In addition, binary data is often converted into an ASCII format for
   transmission, a process referred to in this document as
   "transformation".  Traditionally, Internet RFC 822-based electronic
   mail and USENET protocols did not allow the transmission of "binary"
   (8-bit) data; therefore, files in binary format had to be transformed
   into printable 7-bit ASCII before being transmission.

   On many systems, various file naming conventions are used to help the
   remote user to determine the format of the stored information without
   first having to retrieve the files.  Below we list the more common
   compression, bundling, and transformation conventions used on the
   Internet.  This list is not intended to be exhaustive.  In all cases
   public domain or freely-available implementations of the programs
   associated with these mechanisms are available on the network.

     1) compress/uncompress

     Filenames terminating in ".Z" normally signify files that have been
     compressed by the standard UNIX Lempel-Ziv "compress" utility.
     There is an equivalent program called "uncompress" to reverse the
     process and return the file to its original state.  No bundling
     mechanism is provided, and the resulting files are always in binary
     format, regardless of the original format of the input data.

     2) atob/btoa

     Performs a transformation of ASCII to binary (atob) and the reverse
     (btoa) in a standard format.  Files so transformed often have
     filenames terminated with ".atob".  No bundling or compression
     mechanisms are used.

     3) atox/xtoa

     A data transformation standard used to convert binary
     files to transferable ASCII format.  Sometimes used in
     preference to other similar mechanisms because it is more
     space efficient; however, it is not a compression
     mechanism per se.  It is just more efficient in the
     transformation from one format to the other.  Filenames of
     files in this format often have the ".atox" extension.

     4) uuencode/uudecode

     Transforms binary to ASCII ("uuencode") and the reverse
     ("uudecode") transformation in a standard manner.
     Originally used in the UUCP ("Unix to Unix CoPy")
     mail/USENET system.  No bundling or compression mechanisms
     are used.  Naming conventions often add a .uu at the end
     of the file name.

     5) tar/untar

     Originally a UNIX based utility for bundling (and
     unbundling) several files and directories into (and from)
     a single file (the acronym stands for "Tape ARchive").
     Standard format provides no compression mechanism.  The
     resulting bundled file is always in binary format
     regardless of whether the constituent files are binary or
     not.  Naming conventions usually hold that the filename of
     a "tarfile" contain the sequence ".tar" or "-tar".

     6) zip/unzip

     Often used in IBM PC environments, these complementary programs
     provide both bundling and compression mechanisms.  The resulting
     files are always in binary format.  Files resulting from the "zip"
     program are by convention terminated with the ".zip" filename
     extension.

     7) arc/unarc

     Often used in IBM PC environments, these complementary programs
     provide both bundling and compression mechanisms.  The resulting
     files are always in binary format.  Files stored in this format
     often have a ".arc" filename extension.

     8) binhex

     Used in the Apple MacIntosh environment, the binhex
     process provides bundling as well as binary to ASCII data
     transformations.  Files in this format by convention have
     a filename extension of ".hqx".

     9) shar

     Bourse shell archives package text or binary files into a
     single longer file which, when executed, will create the
     component files.  Because this format is vulnerable to
     misuse, most users use a special tool called unshar to
     decode these archives.  By convention, files in this
     format have a filename extension of ".shar".

     10) VMS_SHARE

     DCL archives package text or binary files into a single
     longer file which, when executed, will created the
     component files.  Because this format is vulnerable to
     misuse, care must be take to examine such an archive
     before executing it.  By convention, files in this format
     have a filename extension of ".shar".

     11) Multipart shar/vms_share files

     Sometimes these shell archive files are broken into
     multiple small parts to simplify their transfer over other
     forms of fileservers that share the same archive tree.  In
     such cases, the parts of the files are usually suffixed
     with a part number (e.g., xyz.01 xyz.02 xyz.03 ... or even
     .01-of-05).  Collect all the parts, concatenate them on
     your local system, and then apply the procedure listed
     above for a simple shar or vms_share file to the
     concatenated file you just made.

     12) zoo

     The zoo program implements compression/decompression and
     bundling/unbundling in a single program.  Utilities
     supporting the zoo format exist on a wide variety of
     systems, including Unix, MS-DOS, Macintosh, OS/2, Atari
     ST, and VAX VMS.  Files created by the "zoo" programs by
     convention end with the ".zoo" filename extension.  Zoo is
     a popular distribution format due to the availability of
     free implementations (both source and executable code) on
     a wide variety of operating systems.

     13) gzip/gunzip

     The Free Software Foundation GNU project adopted a variant
     of the zip compression mechanism as a substitute for the
     compress/uncompress commands.  The resulting files are
     always in binary format.  Files resulting from the "gzip"
     program are by convention terminated with the ".z" or
     ".gz" filename extensions.  The gunzip program also
     recognizes ".tgz" and ".taz" as shorthands for ".tar.z" or
     ".tar.Z".  Also, gunzip can recognize and decompress files
     created by the gzip, zip, compress, or pack commands.

     The GNU project recently began distributing and using the
     gzip/gunzip utilities.  Even more recently they changed
     the default suffix from .z to .gz, in an attempt to (1)
     reduce confusion with .Z, and (2) eliminate a problem with
     case-insensitive file systems such as MS-DOS.  The gzip
     software is freely redistributable and has been ported to
     most UNIX systems, as well as Amiga, Atari, MSDOS, OS2,
     and VMS systems.

   In some cases, a series of the above processes are performed to
   produce the final file as stored on the archive.  In cases where
   multiple transformation processes have been used, tradition holds
   that the original (base) filename be changed to reflect these
   processes, and that the associated filename extensions be added in
   the order in which the processes were performed.  For example, a
   common procedure is first to bundle the original files and
   directories using the "tar" process, then to "compress" the bundled
   file.  Starting with a base file name of "foobar", the file name in
   the archive would become "foobar.tar.Z".  As this is a binary file,
   it would require a further transformation into printable ASCII by a
   program such as "uuencode" in order to be transmitted over
   traditional email or USENET facilities, so it might finally be called
   "foobar.tar.Z.uu."

   Some operating systems can not handle multiple periods; in such cases
   they are often replaced by hyphen ( - ), underscore ( _ ), or by
   detailed instructions in the "read me" files in the directories.

Compress and Tar

   Here is an example of the use of the "compress/uncompress" and
   "tar/untar" programs.

   Suppose "patch" is a useful public domain program for applying
   program patches and updates.  You find this file at an archive site
   as "patch.tar.Z".  Now you know that the ".Z" indicates that the file

   was compressed with the UNIX "compress" command, and the ".tar"
   indicates that it was tar'ed using the UNIX "tar" tape archive
   command.

   First retrieve the file onto your machine using anonymous FTP.  To
   unpack this program, you would first  uncompress it by typing:

      uncompress patch.tar.Z

   This will uncompress the file, and in the process, rename it to
   "patch.tar".  You can then execute the "tar" command to extract the
   individual files.

   In the example of patch.tar, you could invoke the command as:

      %tar xvf patch.tar

   The files would be extracted (that's the 'x' argument to tar) from
   the file patch.tar (that's the 'f' argument).  Because we use the 'v'
   (for verbose) argument, the name of each file is printed as it is
   extracted.  When tar is complete you should have all the files that
   make up the "patch" program in your working directory.

Etiquette

   Not every site that supports FTP permits anonymous tranfers.  It is
   wrong to try to get files from systems that have not advertised the
   availability of such a service.

   Remember that Internet site administrators for archive sites have
   made their systems available out of a sense of community.  Rarely are
   they fully compensated for the time and effort it takes to administer
   such a site.  There are some things users can do to make their jobs
   somewhat easier, such as checking with local support personnel first
   if problems occur before asking the archive administrator for help.

   Most archive machines perform other functions as well.  Please
   respect the needs of their primary users and restrict your FTP access
   to non-prime hours (generally between 1900 and 0600 hours local time
   for that site) whenever possible.  It is especially important to
   remember this for sites located on another continent or across a
   significant body of water because most such links are relatively slow
   and heavily loaded.

   In addition, some sites offering anonymous FTP limit the number of
   concurrent anonymous FTP logins.  If your attempt to log onto such a
   site results in an error message to the effect that too many
   anonymous FTP users are online, you should wait a while before
   attempting another connection rather than retrying immediately.

   To reduce redundant storage, you should find out how to make useful
   the files you fetch using FTP available to your entire organization.
   If you retrieve and test a program that turns out to be useful, you
   should probably ask your administrator to consider making the program
   generally available, which will reduce the redundant effort and disk
   space resulting from multiple individuals installing the same package
   in their personal directories.

   If you find an interesting file or program on an archive site, tell
   others about it.  You should not copy the file or program to your own
   archive unless you are willing to keep your copy current.

References

   [1] Postel, J., and J. Reynolds, "File Transfer Protocol (FTP)", STD
       9, RFC 959, USC/Information Sciences Institute, October 1985.

Security Considerations

   Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

Authors' Addresses

   Peter Deutsch
   Bunyip Information Systems
   266 Blvd. Neptune
   Dorval, Quebec, H9S 2L4
   Canada

   Phone: (514) 398-3709
   EMail: peterd@bunyip.com

   Alan Emtage
   Bunyip Information Systems
   266 Blvd. Neptune
   Dorval, Quebec, H9S 2L4
   Canada

   Phone: (514) 398-3709
   EMail: bajan@bunyip.com

   April N. Marine
   NASA NAIC
   M/S 204-14
   Ames Research Center
   Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000

   Phone: (415) 604-0762
   EMail: amarine@atlas.arc.nasa.gov

 

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