FileZilla: the definitive guide

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FileZilla is one of the most widely used FTP clients which enables users to connect to the server to access their site’s files, edit them or transfer files to and from the server. In this guide, FileZilla: the definitive guide we will see how to use FileZilla to access files and how to transfer data to or from your site.

We’ll then look at other features like how to use the site manager to store the connection to the server, but also how to compare the folders on your local machine with those on the server we’re connected to.

To get started, let’s see how you download and install FileZilla and what its main interface looks like.

How to install FileZilla

Firstly you need to go to the project site and download the FileZilla client on your pc by choosing the version according to your operating system. You can download the latest version of FileZilla for Mac, Linux (Debian version or source code) or Windows (32 or 64bit).

Filezilla:the definitive guide: how it works

FileZilla is an FTP client that allows us to connect to a server and thereby be able to access the files on our site and edit them or upload files from the computer to the site.

Using an FTP client to transfer files can come in handy on several occasions, for example when we want to change the domain or migrate a WordPress site. Another case when we need to transfer files from our computer to the server is if we need to install PrestaShop or WordPress manually.

FileZilla is free and open source and provides access to all the basic functions. The FileZilla Pro version also includes additional features such as file synchronization and allows you to restore transfers of files added to the queue after interrupting them.

After completing the installation, open FileZilla and you’ll be shown an interface like the one you see in the screenshot below:

Filezilla Dashboard

1: The quick connection bar allows us to connect immediately to the server by entering the host, username, password and port.

2: The message log: this area shows the information that indicates if the connection has been made or how the transfer is proceeding.

3: The Local Site section shows us local folders and files, i.e. those we have on our computer. For example, from here you can browse the folder that contains the files you want to upload to the server.

4: The Remote Site section is where you can see the folders and files on the server. At first, it will not show anything because we are not connected to the server yet.

5: The section at the bottom is the transfer queue, as you can see there are three tabs: Queued Files, Unfinished Transfers, and Completed Transfers. By clicking on each one you will be able to see the list of files to be transferred (queued), that has not been transferred ( incomplete) or that have been successfully moved or copied (completed).

Connecting to the server with FileZilla

In order to use FileZilla’s FTP client and transfer files from our PC to the server (or vice versa), we must first connect to the server.

Therefore, we need the data that is usually provided to you when you activate a plan. If you have activated a plan with SupportHost such as WordPress hosting, VPS cloud hosting or a dedicated server, you will find the login details in the activation email of your plan. Whereas if you’ve created a new FTP account you’ll need to use the username and password you entered during setup.

There are two ways to connect to the server: use the quick connection or the site manager. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

Quick connection

When you open FileZilla you’ll notice a Quick Connect bar that allows you to quickly connect to the server.

Filezilla Quick Connect

Host: enter the name of the server, usually it’s the domain name. In case you have requested a transfer you can refer to the data provided by the provider and you will have to use the IP of the server that was provided during the installation.

Username and password: enter the username and password provided by the provider.

Port: in most cases, as in ours, the default port is used, i.e. 21. When the default port is used you can enter 21 or leave the field blank. If your provider has given you different indications you must use the port that has been indicated.

After filling in the fields click on Quick Connect to link to the server.

If the connection is successful you will see in the Remote Site section the folders present on the server.

Filezilla Server Connection Established

After connecting you can save your access data so that you don’t have to enter them again to connect to the server. Just click on File Copy current connection to site management and click on OK.

Filezilla Copy Current Connection To Site Manager

Connecting with the site manager

You can also connect to the server by directly using the site manager. Click on the Open Site Manager button as shown in this screenshot:

Filezilla Open Site Manager

You can also open it using the key combination Ctrl + S.

The site manager allows you to save your login information so you don’t have to fill it in every time you connect to the server.

Click on New Site and on the right section of the screen you can enter the login details.

Again we’ll need to enter the host, username and password. The site manager also allows us to choose the protocol to be used for file transfer.

In addition to FTP you can also use SFTP.

For the type of access in addition to the default option, that is Normal, you can choose:

Require password: the program requires you to enter the password when you log in and it then stores it during the current session.

Interactive: if you want the program to ask for the password at each new server connection (even in the same session).

After choosing the protocol and entering the access data you can click on the Connect button to proceed.

Filezilla Connect To A New Site

By using the site manager to connect, when we go to open FileZilla the next few times, instead of entering the data we’ll just click on the arrow next to the Open Site Manager button and select New Site (or the name you entered when you saved the item) from the list, as follows:

Filezilla New Site

If we have set the access type to Normal we won’t be asked for data and the client will connect directly to the server, if not, we may need to re-enter the password to connect.

The site manager allows us to store login information to connect to multiple sites.

If you manage more than one site, it is worth renaming each one so that you recognize them immediately instead of leaving the default name used by the program “New Site”. To do so, just click on Open Site Management, select the connection we are interested in and click on Rename.

Filezilla Rename A Site

Do you need to use FileZilla from several different computers?

FileZilla allows you to export the settings and connection data stored in the site management in order to import them to another computer.

To do this, all you have to do is access FileZilla from the main computer and click on File Export.

Filezilla Export

Let’s therefore choose, what we want to export, for example, the items added to the site manager, click Ok and save the xml file.

Filezilla Export Settings

At this point, we will have to transfer the file to the other computer, open FileZilla and click on File Import. Let’s select the xml file we transferred from the other computer and click on open.

Filezilla Import

A dialog box will tell us what will be imported and allow us to choose whether to import all the data or just some.

Filezilla Import Settings

Connection errors

If you are unable to connect to the server then check the error log. An error like the one you see in the screenshot below is due to an error while typing your username or password.

Filezilla Connection Error

Make sure you have typed correctly, for example by copying and pasting the password you may have entered some spaces, in this case, it is better to enter the data by hand and try again.

Transferring Files

Now that we have seen how to connect to the server and we have established a connection we now have access to the files and we can transfer folders and files from the server to our computer or vice versa. Let’s see how to do it with some examples.

Download files from a server to pc

In this example, I’ll show you how to download from the server a backup created with cPanel.

Before downloading the file let’s interact with the left section, that is Local Site and open the folder where we want to transfer the file. If we want to create a new folder we simply right click and click on Create Folder and enter it to create and open the folder.

Filezilla Create A New Local Folder

Then enter the name to give to the folder (in the case of this example “backup”) and click OK.

Filezilla Create A New Directory

Let’s locate the file on the server (using the right section Remote Site), which in our case was on the homepage. By double-clicking on the file we want to transfer, the file will be copied directly into the local folder we have just created.

You can follow the transfer process and see how much time is left by looking at the queue.

When the transfer is complete the file that was previously in the Queued Files tab will be visible in the Completed Transfers tab as seen here:

Filezilla Transfer Completed

Upload files from pc to server

In the same way, as we have seen with downloading files, we can upload files from the PC to the server. In this case, we just need to find the files to upload and drag them to the destination folder on the server.

We can transfer more than one file at the same time, all we need to do is select them by holding Ctrl while clicking on the ones we are interested in. Then drag the files from the left panel (Local Site) to the right panel (Remote Site).

Alternatively, we can also right-click and click Upload to start the file transfer.

Filezilla Upload Files

As soon as the file transfer is completed we will see them in the destination folder on the server.

Filezilla Transfer Completed On Server

Change file permissions with FileZilla

FileZilla also allows us to change file and folder permissions.

Before moving forward with changing file permissions remember that the wrong setting can compromise the use of the site.

Generally, WordPress and other CMS files should have permissions 644 and folders 755, this also applies to the upload folders of the site.

Locate the file or folder you are interested in and right-click on it. On the menu, click on File Permissions.

Filezilla File Permissions

The tab that will open allows us to change the permissions to read, write and execute.

Filezilla Change Attributes

Note that owner permissions refer to the user who owns the file, while public permissions apply to everyone.

In this example, by changing the read permissions of an image, here are the results we have on the site:

Filezilla Example Of File Permissions

To the left, we have the page as it appears with the permissions set to 644, and to the right, we have what would happen if we removed the public read permissions of the image.

Compare folders

FileZilla also gives us the ability to compare the contents of the folders locally with those on the server. This feature is useful if we are developing the site locally and we want to compare the files to those on the server, or if we want to keep a backup of the site locally.

To activate it click on View Compare folders Enable.

Filezilla Enable Directory Comparison

We can choose whether to compare files by size or by modification date, selecting one of the two options from the Folder Comparison menu, like this:

Filezilla Compare Filesize And Modification Time

We also have the option to hide identical files, so when we compare two folders we will only see files that differ by size or modification date. We can activate this option from the menu View Folder comparison, as you can see here:

Filezilla Hide Identical Files

After enabling folder comparison we will see files and folders highlighted in different colors. Let’s see what the different colors mean.

Non-highlighted items: non-highlighted folders and files represent identical files and folders. This means that there is no difference between these items on your computer and the corresponding items uploaded to the server.

Highlighted items in yellow: they represent folders or files present only on your computer or only on the server, depending on which section they are in. In this example, the folder admin079 is on the pc, while the folder admin96 is on the server.

Filezilla Files Comparison

Highlighted items in red: files or folders in red on both sides represent files of different sizes. In this example we have the backup file on the pc and on the server, but as you can see the sizes of the two files are different.

Filezilla Files Comparison Different Filesize

Highlighted items in green: if we activate the comparison by modification date we will see some files and folders in green. In this example, we have the .htaccess file in green on the pc, while the server version is not highlighted. The file highlighted in green is the most recent one, so in this case, the most recent version is the one on the pc. If we check the column of the last modification, we have confirmation.

Filezilla Files Comparison Different Time


In this article, FileZilla: the definitive guide we have seen how to use the FileZilla FTP client to connect to the server on the network and access files. Everything we need is in the main window. Once we are connected to the server, we can access the files and transfer them from the local PC to the remote site or vice versa, by simply dragging them from one location to another.

To top it off we looked at a very useful feature that lets us compare folders by highlighting the differences between the files on the local machine and those on the server. What about you, have you used FileZilla to access files hosted on the server before? Let me know in the comments below when you found it useful to do so.

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4 responses to “FileZilla: the definitive guide”

  1. ric graebner Avatar
    ric graebner

    If I try to access one of my own files following a link from my website accessed via my substitute paid-for site-name a Forbidden Error 403 comes up. If I try the same from the actual site name the link opens without problems. Why this difference and can the problem be solved?

    1. You probably try to open 2 diffent urls. Check file permissions, that is usually the cause for a 403 error.

      If you move to SupportHost we can follow you for the resolution.

      1. ric graebner Avatar
        ric graebner

        Thanks for reply. I checked my public_html folder permissions, and owner/group/public can all read/write/execute and ‘applies to all folders and subdirectories’ is checked (code # 775)so that doesn’t seem like the cause of the error msg
        Didn’t understand comment about opening different URLs. I thought my purchased domain name and the original name refer to the same URL but the original name works whereas the bought name doesn’t.

      2. If you have a 403 error only in some cases, what I’m thinking is that you are accessing 2 different files, hence 2 different addresses.

        Unfortunately, all I can do are wild guesses. The only way to really help you would be to check the url and then check on the server. Try contacting your web host, or move to SupportHost and once on our service open a support ticket with the details.

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