You have chosen and bought your domain name and associated it via DNS to an account at a web site hosting company, the next stage is to upload your site from the local computer it has been developed on to a remote server.
This is usually done by FTP (File Transfer Protocol), the primary method on the Internet to transfer large files. (This is distinct from HTTP – HyperText Transfer Protocol – which is used to transmit web pages to your browser). “Point-and-click” hosting companies often provide a web application to transfer your files and build your site, but every hosting company will provide an FTP service to upload.
Many people believe that they need a program such as DreamWeaver in order to do this, but they couldn’t be more wrong; FTP service is built into your operating system, and into many free applications.
Your web hosting company will provide you three (and maybe four) pieces of information to upload your site via FTP:
- A server address (which may, or may not, reflect the domain name you chose to host with the company).
- A username
- A password
- Optionally, a folder name. If provided, this will be the location on the server where you must upload the files for your website: common folder names include htdocs, public, and web.
In Windows, an FTP server is reached in the same way you do almost everything else: via a folder. Simply open up any window on your desktop (note: your desktop, not a browser window or other application) and type the full FTP address into the Folder Path dialog at the top of the window. Remember to include the ftp:// protocol prefix. As an example, the address for my students to upload their class work:
(Don’t try to use this at home: it won’t work).
If the hosting company has specified a folder, include the folder name after a slash (/). For my students, again this is rather complex and unusual, involving multiple levels of folders:
If the path is correct, you’ll see a dialog asking for a username and password. Use the information provided by your host. If it’s correct, you can drag your site files into the new open folder: the files will transfer to the server, just as if you were copying them between devices.
Mac OS X FTP
At a native, operating system level, FTP in Mac OS X is different from Windows, and has some limitations, for security reasons: you can download files from a server via native FTP in OS X, but uploading takes an application (discussed below). For the sake of completion, I’ll mention the native method:
In the Mac OS X Finder, press ⌘K to bring up the Connect to Server window, and type in the same FTP address as above. Again, you will be asked for a username and password, and, if correctly entered, a folder window opens. Again, the restriction is that you can take files from this FTP folder, but you cannot add to it. For that, you need an application.
FTP Applications and Browser Plugins
There are many utilities that help you with FTP. Most people use the built-in FTP services of a web development application such as DreamWeaver or Coda, while others use separate, specialized FTP programs, such as Transmit.
FTP can also be built into a browser, via extensions: Firefox has FireFTP, for example.
- Remember to have a primary page: for 95% of hosting providers, this will be index.html (index.php if you are using PHP).
- Do not copy the folder that contains your site files. Doing that will add another level to your site, putting your index page out of reach.
Failure to follow either of these will result in your index page not coming up when you type the root URL (www.yourdomain.com) into a browser: instead, you’ll see a text file list.