Tuesday, March 30, 2004


FTP - what's it all about Alfie?

FTP sites are remote computers or servers, which instead of hosting web pages are used to store and distribute files. If a shopping analogy helps to differentiate the two protocols, you can think of FTP sites as unadorned, wholesale retail outlets as opposed to swish department stores furnished with elaborate displays of merchandise. FTP sites allow you to cut to the chase so you can see exactly what is on offer without being distracted or getting lost in awkwardly constructed 'aisles'. With the no-nonsense FTP experience, what you see is what you get.

Analogous to web site URLs, FTP sites are accessed via an address that takes a similar format, known as an internet protocol (or IP) address. Instead of the usual http:// prefix, however, FTP addresses will usually begin with ftp:// followed by a long list of digits separated by dots, for example ftp://102.432.765.234. That said, the ftp:// prefix is often superfluous and so can be omitted without interfering with your ability to login to an FTP site. Just to simplify matters; you will probably have discovered by now that typing http://www.website.com into your browser will produce exactly the same results as typing in www.website.com, or even just website.com depending on the configuration of your browser. This is often true where FTP sites are concerned too. Some clients will accept the contracted versions of FTP addresses, for example 123.456.789 instead of ftp://123.456.789, while others will require you to enter the protracted variant before it can be recognized as a bona fide FTP IP address. The latter method is usually necessary if your client is capable of viewing the contents of web sites in addition to FTP sites, and so requires you to differentiate between the two; the built-in FTP browsers of Gozilla, Getright and Flashget are prime examples.

There are two exceptions to the use of the numbered FTP address format. More professional, permanent FTP sites tend to use sub domains mapped to a static IP address, mostly to make it easier for people to remember. For example, to login to your Geocities account you could use the address ftp.geocities.com rather than a series of numbers. Note that in this case the 'ftp.' replaces the ftp:// prefix, yet typing in ftp://ftp.geocities.com will also work just as well.

The second exception to the rule is when the remote host you are trying to access is not connected to the internet via a static IP address, but uses an 'IP masker' or 'IP redirector' such as the services offered by DynIP, No IP or DHS. The advantage with using one of these is that a non-static server (which continually changes its IP address) can be assigned with a static redirector address such as 'myftpsite.dynip.com', which is much easier to remember and can be automatically updated to accommodate the fluctuating digits of the IP address.

It is useful to remember that FTP addresses can be stored as favourites or shortcuts in the same way as web pages. Although these sites can be accessed with the right version of Internet Explorer or Firefox, it is advisable to use an FTP client. FTP sites fall into one of three categories - ratio, no ratio (commonly known as 'pubs') or banner. I will explain each variety in turn below, but before I do so, I want to point out that while these sites are often used to stow away pirated material, it is certainly not my intention to teach you how to access this. Internet technology can be used for illegal as well as legitimate purposes. Which you choose to pursue is your decision alone. What follows is for informational purposes only.

Ratio sites will require users to upload a pre-determined number of bytes before permitting access to any downloads. I can't imagine that any legal FTP sites would fall into this category. The exchange rate is represented by two numbers separated by a colon e.g. 1:3. In this example users would be required to upload 1 byte for every 3 bytes they download. The quantity of data users are allowed to pilfer in return for sharing their own wares is designated by a number of 'credits'.

No ratio sites clearly do not require you to upload anything before you are granted permission to download. These are the kind you would find linked from legitimate sources such as freeware or shareware distribution sites, or by anyone wishing to share their original, home-made content. Illegal no ratio sites on the other hand are common in FXP group circles, are usually highly oversubscribed and have a short shelf life due to their copyright infringing nature - aside from the fact that they tend to be established on university or corporate servers without the owner's consent!

To access banner sites users are obliged to click on several advertisements (usually between 1 and 5). When they do this they are whisked away to another site, a message will be sent in the address URL to convey where the referral originated from and the owner of the FTP site will receive a few pence. Subsequently their task is to locate several keywords located within the ensuing web page, which will form the username and password of the FTP site they wish to access. The instructions for doing this are different in each circumstance, but easy to follow guidelines are usually given - users are paying the owner each time they click on a banner so it is in his or her interest to make the instructions clear and concise. Passwords are changed frequently to ensure users have to repeat this rigmarole to sustain their access to the site.

There are a number of different means of gaining access to FTP sites. Keep reading and I'll walk you through each of them in turn. If you are using Gozilla, or a similar download manager, and have the 'capture all FTP' option selected, all you have to do to connect to a particular FTP site is click on a parsed link in a web page. Your download manager will automatically open a new browser window allowing you to see what's on offer. If the address of the FTP site you wish to login to isn't parsed, however, you will need to highlight the address using your cursor, right-click and select 'copy' from the context menu. Having completed this task, open your download manager's leech window and paste the address from your clipboard into the relevant dialog box using the format: ftp://username:password@321.563.23.342:21. Obviously you can dispense with the username and password nodes if you are connecting to a public access FTP site such as those linked from software publisher's home pages.

Alternatively, if you are using a stand alone FTP client such as Bullet Proof FTP, you can either enter all the constituent nodes of the address into the relevant boxes yourself, or paste in the full address including login details in a continuous stream and let your client split it up for you. Once you have logged into an FTP site you will be greeted by a very plain directory listing not dissimilar to the ones found in Windows Explorer. The usual rules apply; for instance you can double-click on a directory to see what is inside, click once on files or folders to highlight them, right-click on them to view their properties and so on. When you have found what you are looking for, highlight the relevant files or folders and select the 'add' or 'add all' button from within your download manager, or simply drag and drop the files or folders in Bullet Proof FTP to begin transferring them to your hard drive.

If you want to download all the contents of a particular folder, don't complicate matters by selecting the individual files one by one. Instead use the above methods to select the whole folder before issuing the download command. With these precursors out of the way, all that remains to be done is to click the 'OK' or the 'GO' button - the rest will be taken care of automatically. Now's the time to go and make yourself a cappuccino, or something stronger, put your feet up and rest your eyes for a while. Class dismissed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

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The law is an ass

At least that's the vociferous consensus of opinion emanating from camp Share Reactor. Whilst every incredulous explanation for the sudden departure of their beloved community has been bandied about the internet, the truth endorses the principle of Occam's Razor; Share Reactor was taken offline by the Swiss Judicial Inquiry Department of Thurgau.

The grounds for this are apparently the aiding and abetting of copyright infringement. Nevertheless securing a conviction based on the premise that sharing MD5 checksums amounts to distributing copyright protected material is quite a leap. If Simon Moon was indicted for such a crime this would mark a precedent in the crusade against file swappers, and undoubtedly the repercussions would be far-reaching for the peer to peer community in general.

Acting on complaints from a number of key players in the computer software industry, the Swiss authorities swooped on SR's base of operation, pulled the plug and confiscated the servers. Simon Moon has been detained for questioning and his residence is currently being ransacked for evidence of transgressions which may implicate him further, in an effort to strengthen the, quite frankly, flimsy case against him.

To quell the surge of rumours and badmouthing and to reassure Simon's supporters, a member of the SR crew today made an announcement. He asserts that the money donated to the cause was put towards boosting the performance of the connection, but the benefits were not immediately apparent because the service provided by their SDSL company wasn't up to scratch. What's more, it is claimed that the new server was almost ready for prime-time and would have gone online if it hadn't been for this setback.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

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The final eeyore for Share Reactor?

Last month we witnessed the closure of eDonkey hash indexing site, File Nexus, owing to the imposition of legal pressure from anti-piracy authorities. Speculations that Share Reactor may now have befallen a similar fate are rampant throughout file sharing news resource sites. Insiders seem to be as much in the dark as Joe Public.

Share Reactor, the web site which served as a guiding beacon for file sharers daring to venture into the eDonkey network minefield, has been unreachable for days, and no explanation has been forthcoming from owner, Simon Moon. For many months, immense popularity has plagued the site's ability to maintain functional operation. Recently in a do-or-die announcement from Simon, it was claimed that without an insurgence of donations, the site would cease to exist.

The response was impressive; it is believed that a sum of $15,000 was raised to pay for new hardware and cover spiralling bandwidth costs. The targets were met, yet the upgrades failed to materialize. Understandably this has led many SR regulars to brood over the prospect that Simon is now lying on a sun-soaked beach in the Bahamas sipping pina coladas at their expense.

The more plausible explanation, that anti-piracy groups have taken the site out of the file sharing equation, has been almost universally dismissed. This level of certainty is derived from the belief that the Switzerland-based site is immune to action taken by the RIAA et al. My take on the matter is to never say never where the Powers That Be are concerned. For now I'll remain perched on the fence awaiting further information.

Friday, March 12, 2004


How do I flash my BIOS?

The first piece of information you need to know before attempting this is the manufacturer and model number of your motherboard. Once armed with these vital statistics, surf along to your mobo's home page, visit the support area and download the latest update corresponding to the model number of your board.

In addition to this flash update data you will need a flashing utility, so make sure you grab one of those while you're there. In many cases, any old generic utility won't be sufficient, so if possible, always use the one provided by your motherboard manufacturer.

It used to be the case that flashing your BIOS required you to boot into real DOS mode - not just a command prompt window - using either a boot disk or your operating system's safe mode. You would then type, 'name-of-flash-updater-utility name-of-flash-update-data.bin' and wait for confirmation that everything has gone according to plan. Attempting to do this in Windows could sometimes be disastrous, but now the computer industry is trying to put as much distance between DOS and end-users as possible, it is the preferred means.

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is that you carry out these instructions to the letter. If you flash your motherboard using incompatible data you will not be able to boot your computer and the BIOS will have to be either replaced or sent back to the manufacturer to be reprogrammed (usually this costs more than a new motherboard would!), so make sure you check, double and even triple check that you're using the flash update and flash utility specifically designed for use with your board.

To their credit, motherboard manufacturers in recent times, have gone to great lengths to eliminate this possibility by automating the process as much as possible. Asus, for example, produce an idiot-proof flashing utility, which works with all their boards by detecting the model number of your installed hardware, connecting to the net and automatically downloading and executing the correct update.

For more information visit Wim's BIOS.

Saturday, March 06, 2004


What is an FTP port?

In this context, a port is a term used when referring to the location of FTP sites - it is an essential extension of the address used to access them. This port number is tacked onto the end of the address in the form ':564'.

A real life equivalent of trying to access an FTP site using the wrong port number would be going to the right building to retrieve something, but then wandering around aimlessly on the wrong floor. The result: you won't find what you are looking for, most likely because the door you eventually knock on is the wrong one.

If an FTP site is not assigned with a specific port number, it will use the default value of 21.

Port numbers, nevertheless, are also used to access other forms of computer communication software such as email clients, instant messengers and so on. It is wise to close off access to those ports which are not currently in use using a firewall. This prevents hackers from gaining access to your system - see the anonymity tutorial for further details.