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What's FTP? 'Cause If I have to Learn One More Three-Letter Acronym, I'm Going to Hurl

If you're like most PC users these days, you're running Windows. Or maybe you're a Macintosh devotee. Either way, your forays into the Internet take place almost entirely within the safe, comfy World Wide Web. The Web is designed to be easy to navigate, even if it sometimes is frustrating and slow. But the Web is only a part of the Internet. Much of the Net remains the way it was before the Web appeared–running UNIX or Linux operating systems with a text-only interface devoid of graphics and frills that's more akin to working at an antique DOS prompt than the Web. In a word, it's geeky.

Now ask yourself, where do you find a lot of brainy geeks, with no responsibilities, lots of time on their hands, little money in their pockets, a passionate belief that the world owes them something, access to high-powered computers, high-speed Internet connections they don't have to pay for, and who like to rock? Look no farther than the nearest college dorm. The FTP phenomenon has flourished among college students for exactly the reasons described. Using computers hooked to their colleges' powerful servers, they have virtually unlimited storage space and bandwidth. They pull songs off CDs and other FTP sites and onto their computers. Then they open their hard drives to others who spread the songs even further across the Internet.

Not all FTP sites are instruments of the devil. Some are operated by companies as a convenient place to download updates and patches to their software. But generally, any time you see an MP3 for download from an FTP site, it's illegal. Often you see disclaimers such as this one, complete with misspellings and questionable grammar:

The mp3's on this site can only be used as backup, that means you have to have the original single/album of the song you're downloading, if not, you have to buy it within 24 hours.

There is NO Illegal or Copyrighted material on this Website. There are links to mp3's which may or may not be copyrighted. I am not doing the distribution here so I hold myself irresponsible if you download any copyrighted material from the links I provide. Linking is not illegal, Hosting and Distributing is!! I'am just provideing the links, so the creator of this page or the ISP hosting any content on this site take NO responsibility for the way you use the information/files provided on this site. These files and anything else on this site are here for private purposes only and should NOT be downloaded or viewed whatsoever! If you are affiliated with any government, or any other related group or were formally a worker of one you can NOT enter this Web site, cannot access any of its files and you cannot view any of the HTML files. All the objects on this site are PRIVATE property and are not meant for viewing or any other purposes other then bandwidth space. DO NOT ENTER whatsoever! If you enter this site you are not agreeing to these terms and you are violating code 431.322.12 of the Internet Privacy Act signed by Bill Clinton in 1995 and that means that you can NOT threaten our ISP or any person(s) or company storing these files, cannot prosecute any person(s) affiliated with this page which includes family, friends or individuals who run or enter this Web site.


Of course, that's a crock. But then lawyers make a good living off that. Whether the crime is the act of offering the download, or performing the download, or copying the disk hasn't really been decided. But there's got to be at least one law broken in there somewhere.

That said, let's get back to the devil's handiwork.

Although FTP sites are part of the Internet, you don't download pages as you do on the Web. FTP sites have no links to click, only something that looks a lot like an old DOS directory listing. To access anything on these sites, you have to work with the file transfer protocol that gives FTP its name. A protocol is simply a collection of code and signals that let different types of computers communicate with each other; it's a sort of common language. In the case of FTP, the protocol was developed specifically to make files publicly available for transfer over the Internet. No messaging. No browsing. Just transfer. Because you can work with more than one file at a time–whole directories, in fact–FTP is simpler than Web links for mass transfers.

When you first connect to an FTP site, you're likely to be given just look-only access to the files. You can check out a site's collection of MP3s, but you can't download them. Such sites usually have a readme file that explains how you can gain download access to the site's files. Some FTP sites require that you first do something, such as send an email to the site's owner, click some sponsor's banner at a Web site, or visit a porn page. But before you can get even look-only access, you must log on to the site with a recognized username and password. More helpful search engines return not only a site's location but public usernames and passwords so you can make the initial connection.

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