Sunday, October 24, 2004

FTP servers like granny used to make

Sunday, October 24, 2004

This tutorial is dedicated to all you podcasters and other creative, digital artists wishing to share your original content with an adoring fan base. What better way to thank them for their unwavering adulation than to offer your personal hard drive on a silver platter? While actually giving away your physical drive would be a very friendly gesture, and one which I'm sure would be greatly appreciated, this isn't quite what I'm getting at. What I mean is you could freely allow the great unwashed to remotely connect to your computer and fill their virtual shopping baskets with your handicrafts. Although at first this may sound like a risky business, providing you use the right software and set up your server correctly, you need not worry about people gaining access to anything you don't want them to see. It's your server so you set the limits.

In this case the right software is a specialist application known as an FTP daemon - my personal favourite is Serv-U (other people prefer War FTP or Bullet Proof FTP Server, but they're all mad and aren't to be trusted). Once you have downloaded and installed the trial version of Serv-U, locate its shortcut in your start bar and run the program. As it loads you will be greeted by a status screen detailing the version number and copyright stipulations of the software. Of greater interest, in addition to this information you will find a reference to your IP address and port number. It is wise to keep a note of these details because without them you will not be able to tell people how to connect to your server. The fact that Serv-U has been able to identify your IP address indicates that your computer is online and is capable of accepting remote connections. Regardless, don't share those all important digits just yet - you have a few configuration settings to adjust first.

To get started, click on the 'setup' button, located in the menu bar of the program. When the list of options expands, scroll through them until you come to 'ftp server' and click on it to open the server setup dialog box. This is where you will be given the opportunity to assemble your FTP server exactly the way you want it. Some of these options you can leave alone, the port number for instance is best left set at 21 (the default setting for any FTP server). Other options that will require tweaking include the maximum speed at which users are allowed to download and the maximum number of users permitted to connect simultaneously. These options jointly allow you to tailor your server to the bandwidth capacity of your internet connection. You will have to consider this carefully. Obviously if you only have a 56k slowdom you won't want hundreds of people accessing your computer all at once; that would be a fruitless exercise for all concerned. On the other hand, a faster connection will allow you to offer access to many users simultaneously whilst maintaining a reasonable bandwidth to user ratio. A good rule of thumb is to consider the speed you would be happy downloading at, and subsequently adjust your settings accordingly.

The next thing you need to do is set the location of the text file you wish people to view whenever they connect to your computer. This should contain any information regarding server uptime/downtime, usernames and passwords, rules and regulations and so on. Finally it is a good idea to place some limits on the number of times a single user can attempt to make a connection to your computer within a delineated period of time. This will prevent people from 'hammering' your site in order to gain access as soon as another user logs off, freeing up one of your allocated slots.

That just about covers all the changes you will need to make in the 'setup server' menu, so click on the 'OK' button to return to the main menu. The next step involves setting up at least one username and password combination to be circulated amongst those people you intend to leave the welcome mat out for. To do this, click on the 'setup' button once again, but this time choose the 'users' option. Your first task is to enter a username and password in the... yes, you've guessed it, the boxes labeled 'username' and 'password'. These fields can consist of any characters you like, but bear in mind they are case sensitive. As such the password 'lemme-in' is not the equivalent of the password 'LeMme-in'.

At this juncture you will have to select a 'home' directory. This will be your user's first port of call once a connection to your computer has been established. Obviously it wouldn't be very wise to let any Tom, Dick or Harry have full control of your PC since they could wipe out your hard drive, delve into your private documents, upload viruses or, well, do anything they like really. For this reason I would strongly advise creating a new directory populated with only the files you wish remote users to have access to. For the sake of simplicity call this 'ftpserver' and enter it into the 'home directory' dialog box.

Your final obligation is to decide which permission attributes to associate with your directories - click on the 'add' button from within the 'file/directory access rules' area of the 'setup users' window and select the directory you chose as 'home' earlier. To complete the process you will now be required to put a tick in all the relevant boxes. In the directory you want people to be able to browse and download from it would make sense only to tick the 'read' box from the 'files' section, the 'list' box in the directories section and the 'inherit' box in the the 'sub dirs' section (this enables people to view the sub directories within your home folder). This ensures that people can download whatever they like, but cannot remove anything that is already there or add anything new. If you also want people to be able to upload files, you are best advised to create a new directory called 'uploads' and change the permission attributes accordingly. In this case you will need to tick the 'write' box in the 'files' area, the 'make' box in the 'directories' area and the 'inherit' box in the 'sub dirs' area (again so people aren't left fumbling in the dark).

You must now decide if you would like to use one configuration for all your users, or to give each individual user independent access rights. The process is identical no matter how many different username and password combinations you decide to setup, so if you wish to add more simply retrace the steps above until you're happy with your setup.

Sharing is the name of the game, so in typical Robin Hood fashion, all that remains to be done is to divulge your IP address to the rest of the world... or at the very least to a handful of carefully selected, trustworthy technophiles. No, don't mention it - everything I do, I do it for yoooooooou. I'd walk the wire for you, don't you know... whatever that means.

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