Where in the FTP? Simple Practices To Prevent File Loss


When it comes to sharing documents electronically, FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a very good choice. Some of the really nice things about FTP are: it comes standard on most servers, it can be encrypted to provide security, it is a commonly used platform around the globe, and comprehensive return codes that confirm transactions or specify respective errors.

But if used incorrectly, it can spell disaster. There are few things worse than “losing” a critical or confidential document somewhere between your desktop and the manufacturing facility in Shanghai. And, because of the nature of why this commonly occurs, it is hard to troubleshoot, because the written file can remain invisible for the FTP receiver, as if it never existed.

This happens at most companies (including very big ones who should know better) when they only set up one directory – the common directory – to which both FTP partners have access. The overlap of work is where the errors can occur.

For example, when the FTP host is using the “MGET” command to move all files from the common directory, the remote FTP partner might be writing files to the same common directory. By the nature of a FTP and using a single Common Directory, these activities are not synchronized. Often the FTP host is issuing the MDELETE command right after the MGET, and – no surprise – deleting any files that were written in between.

The good news: this is a nightmare that can easily be corrected in a few simple steps. It basically comes down to good processes, and good documentation. Follow these steps:

If an FTP connection is set up you MUST always set up three directories: 1.) a common directory, 2.) a private directory and 3.) an archive directory.

The common directory is the file location to which both parties have access. Files are continuously pushed into and pulled from this directory by both parties, and neither one knows when the other party is accessing the directory.

The private directory is the file location to which only one FTP party has access.

The archive directory holds all the archived files. You place the files there after the transaction is complete so that you can go back and find them, just like anything else that you would archive. Like a giant evidence log on your server.

To review: the workflow for the file should go through the following steps:

Step 1. Write to the common directory. Step 2. Move (not copy) to the private directory, and eventually Step 3. Place in the archive.

Implement these few simple steps to create a much more stable process and never lose FTP files mid-stream again!

Robert Wise is the Director of Support and Account Management for Appterra Collaborative Commerce. Appterra is the only private trading network designed for the cloud.

Charlie Alsmiller

Throughout his career, Charlie Alsmiller has focused on customer problems in difficult industries such as Energy and Telecommunications. Prior to starting Appterra in 2005, Alsmiller was VP of Global Operations for Allegro Development, a leading provider of software for the energy sector. He has also served as president of OmniSpace Technologies, a leading SaaS provider that he founded in 1999. He spent over 10 years in the consulting world with Price Waterhouse and Deloitte Consulting, where he participated in a wide variety of projects for very high profile clients. Mr. Alsmiller holds a BBA from Baylor University in Management and Information Systems and a MBA from the University of Dallas in International Business. Specialties: Technology ventures, Enterprise Software, Contract Negotiation, International Operations, Private Equity, Product Management, Strategic Alliances, Software Implementation, Software Development

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