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What Is an Anonymous FTP?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anonymous file transfer protocol (FTP) is a method used to download and view public files without the user having to supply any identifying information. Signing into an anonymous FTP service is similar to using a regular FTP program, because a username and password are needed; however, the username is usually standard and the password can be anything. Unlike other FTP programs, anonymous FTP cannot upload files; it can only download them. These FTP services are typically found on government, university and company websites, and are full of public files. This will not work for most websites, because most are protected and require that the user know the correct username and password.

To access an anonymous FTP program, the user has to sign into the service; unlike most logging-in procedures, however, the information is anonymous and will not provide any identifying features. The username is usually the word “anonymous,” but it also may be “guest”, a standard among such FTP programs. The password may identify the user, because some services will only accept an email address as a password. Other services allow the user to type in anything for the password, or the server may generate a random password.

Normal FTP programs can perform both uploading and downloading, but an anonymous FTP can only download and view files. This is because, if unrestricted, anonymous uploading of files can easily introduce a virus into the system. Along with this limitation, there often are other user access limitations to keep the website safe from hackers or malicious users.

Anonymous FTP programs can commonly be used with government, university and company websites, and they act as a digital public archive. Historical files, documents about past sales or gatherings, and general laws and legal proceedings can be found and downloaded from these websites. Only public files will be available for download; classified or sensitive information will not be placed on this server, because it would be dangerous for unknown users to download those types of files.

The majority of websites on the Internet do not allow anonymous FTP access; only certain ones do. To access a protected FTP, the user must know the specific username and password, not generic login information. This is because most website owners do not want others looking at their files, there are no files worth looking at, or the owner does not want to shoulder the responsibility of constant file access.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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