Five FTP connection issues, and how to fix them

For those of you new to web development, one of the more common challenges before even getting stuck into learning HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the plethora of other technologies awaiting your new-found skills, is just being able to log in to get your work uploaded.

FTP is a venerable old method to upload your work to web servers. It stands for File Transfer Protocol, and nearly every web host in the world supports it.

In the Complete Web Developer Course, Rob has an FTP tutorial chapter that shows you one way of using FTP with the Firefox browser and the FireFTP add-on to easily update your site files.

Things don’t always go according to plan however. Here are five of the most common issues students have when connecting to their free Eco Web Hosting packages with FTP, and how to resolve them.

1. No FTP server can be found

Typically, you’re prompted for three, or sometimes four pieces of information when connecting to an FTP account. The host, username, password, and sometimes, the port number.

The username and password are self-explanatory. These are the credential used to verify what account you connect to. The port can be thought of as a channel number — FTP is almost always served on port 21, and with Eco Web Hosting, FTP is always served on port 21.

The host though is where you specify what server you’re actually logging into using the username, password and port number.

The Eco Web Hosting control panel gives you both an easy to remember FTP hostname, and an FTP IP address.

FTP hostname and FTP IP address

FTP hostname and FTP IP address

A hostname relies on DNS (Domain Name Service/System) to look up an IP address. You can think of a hostname as an easy to remember alias for an IP address in this scenario.

A hostname will only resolve to an IP address if the domain name associated with it is registered.

In this case, dougalmcguire.ie is not registered, and so using ftp.dougalmcguire.ie as the FTP hostname in FTP software will result in this happening:

FTP Error: Unable to make connection

Unable to make connection 🙁

The IP address isn’t quite so easy to remember, but it will always refer to an FTP server that allows you to connect, so unless you register your domain, you should use the FTP server’s IP address to connect.

2. The wrong server is being connected to

Eco Web Hosting uses different servers for FTP access to the servers that actually serve the websites.

Students often use the IP address from their temporary URL (which requests the site directly from the primary web server in the cluster hosting the site).

This won’t work, as the servers with this IP address don’t have FTP server software installed.

You can find the FTP server’s IP address listed in the FTP pane of your Eco Web Hosting package control panel at http://cpanel.ecowebhosting.co.uk.

FTP server IP address in control panel

FTP server IP address in control panel

3. Port 21 is blocked by a firewall

All web services are served over ports. You can think of ports as channels of the internet.

In the same way that you can expect to find news on CNN, you can expect to find HTTP (i.e. web pages) on port 80, IMAP (one of the two most popular incoming mail protocols) on port 143, and FTP on port 21.

Firewalls can, and often do, block traffic on specific ports. There are thousands of port numbers that can be used for different services, but the more ports you accept traffic on, the more surface area you have open to potential attack.

Firewalls do numerous things to lock down your device to prevent any nefarious types doing anything they shouldn’t, but one of the things they do is close ports for services it thinks aren’t being used.

If you can’t connect to FTP, the connection fails before even trying to log in, and you’re connecting using the correct FTP server IP address, the chances are that port 21 is blocked.

Check your firewall software, and open it up if this is the case. Your router might also have a firewall that blocks port 21 on it, so check this too!

In some rare cases, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) block port 21. If you can’t make a connection to the FTP server at all, and port 21 is open in your software firewall and router firewall, it’s worth getting in touch with your ISP.

4. FTP access is locked

FTP provides full access to all the files in your hosting package. Unscrupulous sorts have been known to try and exploit this by bombarding servers with username and password combinations in an attempt to gain access.

While a strong password is always advisable for this reason, Eco Web Hosting have a second layer of protection that will flat out deny any access attempts, even if the password is correct.

To access FTP, you first need to unlock it.

You can unlock FTP from your hosting control panel, either by time, or by the IP address you are connecting to the internet from:

FTP unlock pane

Here’s where you unlock FTP

5. The password is wrong

Finally, though it might seem the most simple thing in the world, mistyped passwords are one of the most common causes of not being able to access FTP.

It can be an extra whitespace copied into the password field, or one letter in lowercase when it should be in uppercase.

If you want to reset your FTP password, you can do so through your hosting control panel here:

Control panel password reset

Where to reset your passwords

If none of the above helps you, don’t worry! There’s plenty of us in the Udemy course forums, where we’ll be on hand to help.

Andy Dunn is a web developing, photo taking, blog writing Wulfrunian based in Cambridge. He can generally be found on two wheels.

2 Comments

  1. Nik

    Locked, Unlocked FTP user. Can’t establish connection. Before it was always working.
    Error: Critical error: Could not connect to server

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