IEN 149 J. Postel
RFC 765 ISI
June 1980 FILE TRANSFER PROTOCOL
The objectives of FTP are 1) to promote sharing of files (computer
programs and/or data), 2) to encourage indirect or implicit (via
programs) use of remote computers, 3) to shield a user from
variations in file storage systems among Hosts, and 4) to transfer
data reliably and efficiently. FTP, though usable directly by a user
at a terminal, is designed mainly for use by programs.
The attempt in this specification is to satisfy the diverse needs of
users of maxi-Hosts, mini-Hosts, and TIPs, with a simple, and easily
implemented protocol design.
This paper assumes knowledge of the following protocols described in
the ARPA Internet Protocol Handbook.
The Transmission Control Protocol
The TELNET Protocol
In this section, the terminology and the FTP model are discussed.
The terms defined in this section are only those that have special
significance in FTP. Some of the terminology is very specific to the
FTP model; some readers may wish to turn to the section on the FTP
model while reviewing the terminology.
The ASCII character set as defined in the ARPA Internet
Protocol Handbook. In FTP, ASCII characters are defined to be
the lower half of an eight-bit code set (i.e., the most
significant bit is zero).
Access controls define users' access privileges to the use of a
system, and to the files in that system. Access controls are
necessary to prevent unauthorized or accidental use of files.
It is the prerogative of a server-FTP process to invoke access
There are two byte sizes of interest in FTP: the logical byte
size of the file, and the transfer byte size used for the
transmission of the data. The transfer byte size is always 8
bits. The transfer byte size is not necessarily the byte size
in which data is to be stored in a system, nor the logical byte
size for interpretation of the structure of the data.
A simplex connection over which data is transferred, in a
specified mode and type. The data transferred may be a part of
a file, an entire file or a number of files. The path may be
between a server-DTP and a user-DTP, or between two
The passive data transfer process "listens" on the data port
for a connection from the active transfer process in order to
open the data connection.
The end-of-file condition that defines the end of a file being
The end-of-record condition that defines the end of a record
A procedure that allows a user to recover from certain errors
such as failure of either Host system or transfer process. In
FTP, error recovery may involve restarting a file transfer at a
A set of commands that comprise the control information flowing
from the user-FTP to the server-FTP process.
An ordered set of computer data (including programs), of
arbitrary length, uniquely identified by a pathname.
The mode in which data is to be transferred via the data
connection. The mode defines the data format during transfer
including EOR and EOF. The transfer modes defined in FTP are
described in the Section on Transmission Modes.
The Network Virtual Terminal as defined in the TELNET Protocol.
The Network Virtual File System. A concept which defines a
standard network file system with standard commands and
pathname conventions. FTP only partially implements the NVFS
concept at this time.
A file may be structured as a set of independent parts called
pages. FTP supports the transmission of discontinuous files as
independent indexed pages.
Pathname is defined to be the character string which must be
input to a file system by a user in order to identify a file.
Pathname normally contains device and/or directory names, and
file name specification. FTP does not yet specify a standard
pathname convention. Each user must follow the file naming
conventions of the file systems involved in the transfer.
A sequential file may be structured as a number of contiguous
parts called records. Record structures are supported by FTP
but a file need not have record structure.
A reply is an acknowledgment (positive or negative) sent from
server to user via the TELNET connections in response to FTP
commands. The general form of a reply is a completion code
(including error codes) followed by a text string. The codes
are for use by programs and the text is usually intended for
The data transfer process, in its normal "active" state,
establishes the data connection with the "listening" data port,
sets up parameters for transfer and storage, and transfers data
on command from its PI. The DTP can be placed in a "passive"
state to listen for, rather than initiate a, connection on the
A process or set of processes which perform the function of
file transfer in cooperation with a user-FTP process and,
possibly, another server. The functions consist of a protocol
interpreter (PI) and a data transfer process (DTP).
The protocol interpreter "listens" on Port L for a connection
from a user-PI and establishes a TELNET communication
connection. It receives standard FTP commands from the
user-PI, sends replies, and governs the server-DTP.
The full-duplex communication path between a user-PI and a
server-PI, operating according to the TELNET Protocol.
The data representation type used for data transfer and
storage. Type implies certain transformations between the time
of data storage and data transfer. The representation types
defined in FTP are described in the Section on Establishing
A human being or a process on behalf of a human being wishing
to obtain file transfer service. The human user may interact
directly with a server-FTP process, but use of a user-FTP
process is preferred since the protocol design is weighted
The data transfer process "listens" on the data port for a
connection from a server-FTP process. If two servers are
transferring data between them, the user-DTP is inactive.
A set of functions including a protocol interpreter, a data
transfer process and a user interface which together perform
the function of file transfer in cooperation with one or more
server-FTP processes. The user interface allows a local
language to be used in the command-reply dialogue with the
The protocol interpreter initiates the TELNET connection from
its port U to the server-FTP process, initiates FTP commands,
and governs the user-DTP if that process is part of the file
THE FTP MODEL
With the above definitions in mind, the following model (shown in
Figure 1) may be diagrammed for an FTP service.
|| User || --------
||Interface|<--->| User |
---------- | V |
|/------\| FTP Commands |/---------\|
||Server|<---------------->| User ||
|| PI || FTP Replies || PI ||
| V | | V |
-------- |/------\| Data |/---------\| --------
| File |<--->|Server|<---------------->| User |<--->| File |
|System| || DTP || Connection || DTP || |System|
-------- |\------/| |\---------/| --------
NOTES: 1. The data connection may be used in either direction.
2. The data connection need not exist all of the time.
Figure 1 Model for FTP Use
In the model described in Figure 1, the user-protocol interpreter
initiates the TELNET connection. At the initiation of the user,
standard FTP commands are generated by the user-PI and transmitted
to the server process via the TELNET connection. (The user may
establish a direct TELNET connection to the server-FTP, from a TIP
terminal for example, and generate standard FTP commands himself,
bypassing the user-FTP process.) Standard replies are sent from
the server-PI to the user-PI over the TELNET connection in
response to the commands.
The FTP commands specify the parameters for the data connection
(data port, transfer mode, representation type, and structure) and
the nature of file system operation (store, retrieve, append,
delete, etc.). The user-DTP or its designate should "listen" on
the specified data port, and the server initiate the data
connection and data transfer in accordance with the specified
parameters. It should be noted that the data port need not be in
the same Host that initiates the FTP commands via the TELNET
connection, but the user or his user-FTP process must ensure a
"listen" on the specified data port. It should also be noted that
the data connection may be used for simultaneous sending and
In another situation a user might wish to transfer files between
two Hosts, neither of which is his local Host. He sets up TELNET
connections to the two servers and then arranges for a data
connection between them. In this manner control information is
passed to the user-PI but data is transferred between the server
data transfer processes. Following is a model of this
TELNET ------------ TELNET
---------->| User-FTP |<-----------
| | User-PI | |
| | "C" | |
V ------------ V
| Server-FTP | Data Connection | Server-FTP |
| "A" |<---------------------->| "B" |
-------------- Port (A) Port (B) --------------
The protocol requires that the TELNET connections be open while
data transfer is in progress. It is the responsibility of the
user to request the closing of the TELNET connections when
finished using the FTP service, while it is the server who takes
the action. The server may abort data transfer if the TELNET
connections are closed without command.
DATA TRANSFER FUNCTIONS
Files are transferred only via the data connection. The TELNET
connection is used for the transfer of commands, which describe the
functions to be performed, and the replies to these commands (see the
Section on FTP Replies). Several commands are concerned with the
transfer of data between Hosts. These data transfer commands include
the MODE command which specify how the bits of the data are to be
transmitted, and the STRUcture and TYPE commands, which are used to
define the way in which the data are to be represented. The
transmission and representation are basically independent but
"Stream" transmission mode is dependent on the file structure
attribute and if "Compressed" transmission mode is used the nature of
the filler byte depends on the representation type.
DATA REPRESENTATION AND STORAGE
Data is transferred from a storage device in the sending Host to a
storage device in the receiving Host. Often it is necessary to
perform certain transformations on the data because data storage
representations in the two systems are different. For example,
NVT-ASCII has different data storage representations in different
systems. PDP-10's generally store NVT-ASCII as five 7-bit ASCII
characters, left-justified in a 36-bit word. 360's store NVT-ASCII
as 8-bit EBCDIC codes. Multics stores NVT-ASCII as four 9-bit
characters in a 36-bit word. It may be desirable to convert
characters into the standard NVT-ASCII representation when
transmitting text between dissimilar systems. The sending and
receiving sites would have to perform the necessary
transformations between the standard representation and their
A different problem in representation arises when transmitting
binary data (not character codes) between Host systems with
different word lengths. It is not always clear how the sender
should send data, and the receiver store it. For example, when
transmitting 32-bit bytes from a 32-bit word-length system to a
36-bit word-length system, it may be desirable (for reasons of
efficiency and usefulness) to store the 32-bit bytes
right-justified in a 36-bit word in the latter system. In any
case, the user should have the option of specifying data
representation and transformation functions. It should be noted
that FTP provides for very limited data type representations.
Transformations desired beyond this limited capability should be
performed by the user directly.
Data representations are handled in FTP by a user specifying a
representation type. This type may implicitly (as in ASCII or
EBCDIC) or explicitly (as in Local byte) define a byte size for
interpretation which is referred to as the "logical byte size."
This has nothing to do with the byte size used for transmission
over the data connection, called the "transfer byte size", and the
two should not be confused. For example, NVT-ASCII has a logical
byte size of 8 bits. If the type is Local byte, then the TYPE
command has an obligatory second parameter specifying the logical
byte size. The transfer byte size is always 8 bits.
The types ASCII and EBCDIC also take a second (optional)
parameter; this is to indicate what kind of vertical format
control, if any, is associated with a file. The following data
representation types are defined in FTP:
This is the default type and must be accepted by all FTP
implementations. It is intended primarily for the transfer
of text files, except when both Hosts would find the EBCDIC
type more convenient.
The sender converts the data from his internal character
representation to the standard 8-bit NVT-ASCII
representation (see the TELNET specification). The receiver
will convert the data from the standard form to his own
In accordance with the NVT standard, the <CRLF> sequence
should be used, where necessary, to denote the end of a line
of text. (See the discussion of file structure at the end
of the Section on Data Representation and Storage).
Using the standard NVT-ASCII representation means that data
must be interpreted as 8-bit bytes.
The Format parameter for ASCII and EBCDIC types is discussed
This type is intended for efficient transfer between Hosts
which use EBCDIC for their internal character
For transmission the data are represented as 8-bit EBCDIC
characters. The character code is the only difference
between the functional specifications of EBCDIC and ASCII
End-of-line (as opposed to end-of-record--see the discussion
of structure) will probably be rarely used with EBCDIC type
for purposes of denoting structure, but where it is
necessary the <NL> character should be used.
A character file may be transferred to a Host for one of three
purposes: for printing, for storage and later retrieval, or for
processing. If a file is sent for printing, the receiving Host
must know how the vertical format control is represented. In the
second case, it must be possible to store a file at a Host and
then retrieve it later in exactly the same form. Finally, it
ought to be possible to move a file from one Host to another and
process the file at the second Host without undue trouble. A
single ASCII or EBCDIC format does not satisfy all these
conditions and so these types have a second parameter specifying
one of the following three formats:
This is the default format to be used if the second (format)
parameter is omitted. Non-print format must be accepted by
all FTP implementations.
The file need contain no vertical format information. If it
is passed to a printer process, this process may assume
standard values for spacing and margins.
Normally, this format will be used with files destined for
processing or just storage.
TELNET Format Controls
The file contains ASCII/EBCDIC vertical format controls
(i.e., <CR>, <LF>, <NL>, <VT>, <FF>) which the printer
process will interpret appropriately. <CRLF>, in exactly
this sequence, also denotes end-of-line.
Carriage Control (ASA)
The file contains ASA (FORTRAN) vertical format control
characters. (See RFC 740 Appendix C and Communications of
the ACM, Vol. 7, No. 10, 606 (Oct. 1964)). In a line or a
record, formatted according to the ASA Standard, the first
character is not to be printed. Instead it should be used
to determine the vertical movement of the paper which should
take place before the rest of the record is printed.
The ASA Standard specifies the following control characters:
Character Vertical Spacing
blank Move paper up one line
0 Move paper up two lines
1 Move paper to top of next page
+ No movement, i.e., overprint
Clearly there must be some way for a printer process to
distinguish the end of the structural entity. If a file has
record structure (see below) this is no problem; records
will be explicitly marked during transfer and storage. If
the file has no record structure, the <CRLF> end-of-line
sequence is used to separate printing lines, but these
format effectors are overridden by the ASA controls.
The data are sent as contiguous bits which, for transfer,
are packed into the 8-bit transfer bytes. The receiving
site must store the data as contiguous bits. The structure
of the storage system might necessitate the padding of the
file (or of each record, for a record-structured file) to
some convenient boundary (byte, word or block). This
padding, which must be all zeros, may occur only at the end
of the file (or at the end of each record) and there must be
a way of identifying the padding bits so that they may be
stripped off if the file is retrieved. The padding
transformation should be well publicized to enable a user to
process a file at the storage site.
Image type is intended for the efficient storage and
retrieval of files and for the transfer of binary data. It
is recommended that this type be accepted by all FTP
Local byte Byte size
The data is transferred in logical bytes of the size
specified by the obligatory second parameter, Byte size.
The value of Byte size must be a decimal integer; there is
no default value. The logical byte size is not necessarily
the same as the transfer byte size. If there is a
difference in byte sizes, then the logical bytes should be
packed contiguously, disregarding transfer byte boundaries
and with any necessary padding at the end.
When the data reaches the receiving Host it will be
transformed in a manner dependent on the logical byte size
and the particular Host. This transformation must be
invertible (that is an identical file can be retrieved if
the same parameters are used) and should be well publicized
by the FTP implementors.
For example, a user sending 36-bit floating-point numbers to
a Host with a 32-bit word could send his data as Local byte
with a logical byte size of 36. The receiving Host would
then be expected to store the logical bytes so that they
could be easily manipulated; in this example putting the
36-bit logical bytes into 64-bit double words should
Another example, a pair of hosts with a 36-bit word size may
send data to one another in words by using TYPE L 36. The
data would be sent in the 8-bit transmission bytes packed so
that 9 transmission bytes carried two host words.
A note of caution about parameters: a file must be stored and
retrieved with the same parameters if the retrieved version is to
be identical to the version originally transmitted. Conversely,
FTP implementations must return a file identical to the original
if the parameters used to store and retrieve a file are the same.
In addition to different representation types, FTP allows the
structure of a file to be specified. Three file structures are
defined in FTP:
file-structure, where there is no internal structure and the
file is considered to be a continuous
sequence of data bytes,
record-structure, where the file is made up of sequential
and page-structure, where the file is made up of independent
File-structure is the default, to be assumed if the STRUcture
command has not been used but both file and record structures must
be accepted for "text" files (i.e., files with TYPE ASCII or
EBCDIC) by all FTP implementations. The structure of a file will
affect both the transfer mode of a file (see the Section on
Transmission Modes) and the interpretation and storage of the
The "natural" structure of a file will depend on which Host stores
the file. A source-code file will usually be stored on an IBM 360
in fixed length records but on a PDP-10 as a stream of characters
partitioned into lines, for example by <CRLF>. If the transfer of
files between such disparate sites is to be useful, there must be
some way for one site to recognize the other's assumptions about
With some sites being naturally file-oriented and others naturally
record-oriented there may be problems if a file with one structure
is sent to a Host oriented to the other. If a text file is sent
with record-structure to a Host which is file oriented, then that
Host should apply an internal transformation to the file based on
the record structure. Obviously this transformation should be
useful but it must also be invertible so that an identical file
may be retrieved using record structure.
In the case of a file being sent with file-structure to a
record-oriented Host, there exists the question of what criteria
the Host should use to divide the file into records which can be
processed locally. If this division is necessary the FTP
implementation should use the end-of-line sequence, <CRLF> for
ASCII, or <NL> for EBCDIC text files, as the delimiter. If an FTP
implementation adopts this technique, it must be prepared to
reverse the transformation if the file is retrieved with
To transmit files that are discontinuous FTP defines a page
structure. Files of this type are sometimes know as "random
access files" or even as "holey files". In these files there
is sometimes other information associated with the file as a
whole (e.g., a file descriptor), or with a section of the file
(e.g., page access controls), or both. In FTP, the sections of
the file are called pages.
To provide for various page sizes and associated information
each page is sent with a page header. The page header has the
following defined fields:
The number of logical bytes in the page header including
this byte. The minimum header length is 4.
The logical page number of this section of the file.
This is not the transmission sequence number of this
page, but the index used to identify this page of the
The number of logical bytes in the page data. The
minimum data length is 0.
The type of page this is. The following page types are
0 = Last Page
This is used to indicate the end of a paged
structured transmission. The header length must be
4, and the data length must be 0.
1 = Simple Page
This is the normal type for simple paged files with
no page level associated control information. The
header length must be 4.
2 = Descriptor Page
This type is used to transmit the descriptive
information for the file as a whole.
3 = Access Controled Page
This is type includes an additional header field
for paged files with page level access control
information. The header length must be 5.
Further header fields may be used to supply per page
control information, for example, per page access
All fields are one logical byte in length. The logical byte
size is specified by the TYPE command.
ESTABLISHING DATA CONNECTIONS
The mechanics of transferring data consists of setting up the data
connection to the appropriate ports and choosing the parameters
for transfer. Both the user and the server-DTPs have a default
data port. The user-process default data port is the same as the
control connection port, i.e., U. The server-process default data
port is the port adjacent to the control connection port, i.e.,
The transfer byte size is 8-bit bytes. This byte size is relevant
only for the actual transfer of the data; it has no bearing on
representation of the data within a Host's file system.
The passive data transfer process (this may be a user-DTP or a
second server-DTP) shall "listen" on the data port prior to
sending a transfer request command. The FTP request command
determines the direction of the data transfer. The server, upon
receiving the transfer request, will initiate the data connection
to the port. When the connection is established, the data
transfer begins between DTP's, and the server-PI sends a
confirming reply to the user-PI.
It is possible for the user to specify an alternate data port by
use of the PORT command. He might want a file dumped on a TIP
line printer or retrieved from a third party Host. In the latter
case the user-PI sets up TELNET connections with both server-PI's.
One server is then told (by an FTP command) to "listen" for a
connection which the other will initiate. The user-PI sends one
server-PI a PORT command indicating the data port of the other.
Finally both are sent the appropriate transfer commands. The
exact sequence of commands and replies sent between the
user-controller and the servers is defined in the Section on FTP
In general it is the server's responsibility to maintain the data
connection--to initiate it and to close it. The exception to this
is when the user-DTP is sending the data in a transfer mode that
requires the connection to be closed to indicate EOF. The server
MUST close the data connection under the following conditions:
1. The server has completed sending data in a transfer mode
that requires a close to indicate EOF.
2. The server receives an ABORT command from the user.
3. The port specification is changed by a command from the
4. The TELNET connection is closed legally or otherwise.
5. An irrecoverable error condition occurs.
Otherwise the close is a server option, the exercise of which he
must indicate to the user-process by an appropriate reply.
The next consideration in transferring data is choosing the
appropriate transmission mode. There are three modes: one which
formats the data and allows for restart procedures; one which also
compresses the data for efficient transfer; and one which passes
the data with little or no processing. In this last case the mode
interacts with the structure attribute to determine the type of
processing. In the compressed mode the representation type
determines the filler byte.
All data transfers must be completed with an end-of-file (EOF)
which may be explicitly stated or implied by the closing of the
data connection. For files with record structure, all the
end-of-record markers (EOR) are explicit, including the final one.
For files transmitted in page structure a "last-page" page type is
NOTE: In the rest of this section, byte means "transfer byte"
except where explicitly stated otherwise.
For the purpose of standardized transfer, the sending Host will
translate his internal end of line or end of record denotation
into the representation prescribed by the transfer mode and file
structure, and the receiving Host will perform the inverse
translation to his internal denotation. An IBM 360 record count
field may not be recognized at another Host, so the end of record
information may be transferred as a two byte control code in
Stream mode or as a flagged bit in a Block or Compressed mode
descriptor. End of line in an ASCII or EBCDIC file with no record
structure should be indicated by <CRLF> or <NL>, respectively.
Since these transformations imply extra work for some systems,
identical systems transferring non-record structured text files
might wish to use a binary representation and stream mode for the
The following transmission modes are defined in FTP:
The data is transmitted as a stream of bytes. There is no
restriction on the representation type used; record
structures are allowed.
In a record structured file EOR and EOF will each be
indicated by a two-byte control code. The first byte of the
control code will be all ones, the escape character. The
second byte will have the low order bit on and zeros
elsewhere for EOR and the second low order bit on for EOF;
that is, the byte will have value 1 for EOR and value 2 for
EOF. EOR and EOF may be indicated together on the last byte
transmitted by turning both low order bits on, i.e., the
value 3. If a byte of all ones was intended to be sent as
data, it should be repeated in the second byte of the
If the structure is file structure, the EOF is indicated by
the sending Host closing the data connection and all bytes
are data bytes.
The file is transmitted as a series of data blocks preceded
by one or more header bytes. The header bytes contain a
count field, and descriptor code. The count field indicates
the total length of the data block in bytes, thus marking
the beginning of the next data block (there are no filler
bits). The descriptor code defines: last block in the file
(EOF) last block in the record (EOR), restart marker (see
the Section on Error Recovery and Restart) or suspect data
(i.e., the data being transferred is suspected of errors and
is not reliable). This last code is NOT intended for error
control within FTP. It is motivated by the desire of sites
exchanging certain types of data (e.g., seismic or weather
data) to send and receive all the data despite local errors
(such as "magnetic tape read errors"), but to indicate in
the transmission that certain portions are suspect). Record
structures are allowed in this mode, and any representation
type may be used.
The header consists of the three bytes. Of the 24 bits of
header information, the 16 low order bits shall represent
byte count, and the 8 high order bits shall represent
descriptor codes as shown below.
| Descriptor | Byte Count |
| 8 bits | 16 bits |
The descriptor codes are indicated by bit flags in the
descriptor byte. Four codes have been assigned, where each
code number is the decimal value of the corresponding bit in
128 End of data block is EOR
64 End of data block is EOF
32 Suspected errors in data block
16 Data block is a restart marker
With this encoding more than one descriptor coded condition
may exist for a particular block. As many bits as necessary
may be flagged.
The restart marker is embedded in the data stream as an
integral number of 8-bit bytes representing printable
characters in the language being used over the TELNET
connection (e.g., default--NVT-ASCII). <SP> (Space, in the
appropriate language) must not be used WITHIN a restart
For example, to transmit a six-character marker, the
following would be sent:
|Descrptr| Byte count |
|code= 16| = 6 |
| Marker | Marker | Marker |
| 8 bits | 8 bits | 8 bits |
| Marker | Marker | Marker |
| 8 bits | 8 bits | 8 bits |
There are three kinds of information to be sent: regular
data, sent in a byte string; compressed data, consisting of
replications or filler; and control information, sent in a
two-byte escape sequence. If n>0 bytes (up to 127) of
regular data are sent, these n bytes are preceded by a byte
with the left-most bit set to 0 and the right-most 7 bits
containing the number n.
1 7 8 8
+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
|0| n | | d(1) | ... | d(n) |
+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
String of n data bytes d(1),..., d(n)
Count n must be positive.
To compress a string of n replications of the data byte d,
the following 2 bytes are sent: