Setting up an FTP server and preparing team members to use it can be a complicated process. For example, you have to define what kind of shell access and file system permissions each FTP account has. In addition, each team member must learn how to use an FTP client program.
- Purchase an FTP server
- Log in to the server’s admin panel
- Create an FTP account for each user
- Install FTP software on each user’s computer
- Sign up for Dropbox
- Download the Dropbox application
Getting started with Dropbox is quick and straightforward. Files are stored in the cloud, so you’ll never have to interact with a server. And since there’s minimal software setup, your team can focus on important tasks instead of wrangling complicated FTP software.
The manual nature of FTP results in a lot of back-and-forth between team members. Each time someone changes a file, it needs to be re-uploaded to the FTP server to share it. Everyone who wants the latest version of the file has to re-download it. If your team frequently shares edits with each other, this can quickly become a bottleneck.
- Open your FTP software
- Enter the server URL, port, and your FTP account’s username/password
- Connect to the server
- Use the FTP software’s file browser to find the file on your computer
- Upload the file to the server
- Tell your team members to log in to the FTP server and download the file to their own computers
- Repeat the process each time the file is updated
- Create a new folder inside your Dropbox for sharing documents with your team
- Right-click the folder, and share the folder with team members
- Place a file in the shared folder on your computer. The file will automatically appear in your team members’ Dropbox folders
- Whenever anyone edits the file, everybody else’s copy will automatically update
With Dropbox, once you’ve set up a shared folder, collaboration is completely automatic. Everybody will have their own "live," editable copy of the file, and their updates magically appear on everybody else’s computer whenever they make a change. Worried about conflicts?
Making files available to clients securely can be difficult with FTP. You may not want to let them alter your documents, so their FTP accounts must have read-only access. You probably don’t want them to see all of your internal files either. This requires careful configuration of the FTP server’s file system permissions by your system administrator.
- Have your client install FTP software on their computer
- Create an FTP account for your client. This can be tricky:
- It needs to have read-only permissions
- It should only have access to the desired file(s)
- Give your client the FTP login information and the path to the file on the server
- Your client can then download the desired files, just like your team members
- Right-click any file in your Dropbox folder
- Select the Share Dropbox Link menu item to generate a sharable link
- Send the link to your client. It can be viewed or downloaded with any web browser
Dropbox makes keeping your team’s files separate from your clients’ much easier. Shareable links are completely independent from your team’s shared Dropbox folders, which means your clients can only access the files you want them to. Since no additional software is required, clients can get files without having to learn a new system. You also have the option of adding passwords and expiration dates to links if you’re using Dropbox Pro or Dropbox Business. And you can revoke access to a document at any time by simply disabling the link.
When multiple people work on the same file, this can result in a conflict: whose edits should be accepted? Say two users are editing the same document. One finishes updating, and uploads the file to the FTP server. A little while later, the second user does the same, wiping out all of the first user’s hard work.
FTP and Dropbox have very different ways of dealing with this problem.
- FTP doesn’t support conflict resolution
- The most recent copy of the file overwrites everybody else’s work
- Solutions revolve around “checking out” files so only one person can edit them at a time
- When a conflict occurs, Dropbox keeps both copies of the file
- This lets you view both users’ edits and decide how they should be merged
With FTP, conflicts are a dangerous endeavor. The only way to avoid this kind of human error is by implementing a workflow that only lets one user edit a file at any given time.
In contrast, Dropbox’s conflicted copies behavior acts as a safety net for avoiding data loss. Nobody needs to worry about checking out files or overwriting somebody else’s data because Dropbox will let you know when a conflict arises.
An FTP server only has a single, current copy of each file. It has no notion of a file’s history, which introduces the risk of losing data. For example, if one user deletes some information and re-uploads the document to the server, it’s gone forever.
- FTP does not support file versioning
- A common solution is to copy the file and rename it to include the version number
- Right-click the file in your Dropbox folder
- Select the View Previous Versions menu item to list the file’s history
- Select the desired version and click Restore
When your files live on Dropbox, every saved edit is recorded. If you realize important data was deleted a while ago, you can get it back with a few clicks of the mouse. Like file sharing, this is completely automatic — you never need to think about version control until you want to look at an old copy of a file.
FTP has the same limitations on mobile devices as on desktop computers. You still need dedicated FTP software on your mobile device, and you have to manually synchronize files every time someone makes an edit.
- Install FTP software on your mobile device
- Connect to your FTP server and download the file
- Manually download/upload the file each time you want to share a change with your team
- Download the Dropbox mobile application
- Sign in to your account. You can preview documents right inside the Dropbox mobile app
- Using Dropbox-connected mobile apps like Microsoft Office, any changes you make are synced across all devices
Dropbox is available for most mobile devices, including iOS, Android, and Windows phones and tablets. You can also access your files through the Dropbox website. With the Dropbox mobile app, you can browse files, edit them with third-party apps, and create shareable links for your clients.