Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

6.2. What is anonymous FTP?

The majority of FTP use isn't done by people moving their own files between computers. (That's like moving your stuff between your home and your office: Sometimes it's useful, but it's still the same old stuff.) Instead, most FTP use is to access archives of software. Gargantuan libraries of software are available for the taking using anonymous FTP. Thousands of sites provide anonymous FTP service, allowing you to download everything from electronic books and magazines, to satellite pictures of the weather, to public-domain utilities and games for your personal computer.

Some system administrators have chosen to make their computers available for everyone on the Net to stop by and share files. Unlike full-privilege FTP, you don't need your own account to access an anonymous FTP site; all you need is the not-so-secret word: anonymous. Whereas almost all Internet sites support full-privilege FTP, only a small percentage of them allow anonymous FTP access. (Still, on a network the size of the Internet, that small minority of sites offering anonymous FTP quickly adds up to thousands.)

The term anonymous FTP is a misnomer. When you access an anonymous FTP site, you are not necessarily anonymous at all. In fact, many sites insist that you "sign in" using your electronic mail address before you scramble to transfer copies of every program known to mankind. A few FTP sites log all files transferred to and from the computer. So the word anonymous means that anyone can access the archive, not merely those people with full-privilege accounts on that computer.

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