I rely heavily on Webdrive to
connect to the servers that I own and maintain. Instead of firing up its own user
interface, Webdrive makes the remote site appear as another drive on your machine once connected.
And that means that almost all of your Windows-based programs will work to
manipulate files remotely.
In this video for an Ask Leo!
webinar, I’ll show you how it works.
WebDrive is an interesting utility that not a lot of people know about and yet I’ve been relying on it, gosh, for years. Quite literally, it’s been a fundamental tool here at AskLeo! ‘world headquarters’ as I sometimes call it, and it enables me to access my servers. Fundamentally, what is WebDrive?
WebDrive, at webdrive.com…there’s a lot of things here that SRT (Soft River Technologies) works on, but the fundamental thing you want to look at here is Downloads, you’ll find WebDrive. WebDrive is an FTP/SFTP program. So, file transfers, that’s what it’s all about.
So, I already have it installed here (so I’m going to make this go away); fire up WebDrive, and yes, in this particular case, I’m running the 20-day trial which is fine for what we need to do here. WebDrive is not free, but as I pointed out, I’ve been relying on it for years and I absolutely think it’s worth the money. I’m actually going to remove that because creating it is one of the things that I wanted to do today.
So what WebDrive allows you to do is preconfigure the sites that you want to connect to. So let’s do that. I think that will probably make exactly what WebDrive is all about significantly more clear.
Connect by Server Type. So I’m going to set up a regular, plain old FTP connection so as you can see, it does SFTP, WebDAV and it also does Amazon S3, which is one of the few and difficult protocols to manage and it’s very useful for doing that as well. But for this example, I’m going to stick with plain old FTP. You can see some of the other options that are available under that particular kind of type. FTP, by definition, is not secure. You can, or if you want to, use passive mode. Typically, passive mode is useful for connecting through a router. Sometimes, FTP connections depending on the server and the client involved may have difficulty. Passive mode, I believe, transfers the primary control of the connection to the other side.
So, in this particular case, I have a machine set up; a server set up called randomisp.com. We’re going to use whatever directory it gives me to begin with and the default port for FTP. I’m going to login; we’re going to save the password to make these connections easier later. FTP servers can be configured to allow anonymous login lately because of various issues relating to file sharing, spammers, etc. Most FTP servers have this turned off; I certainly have on my example server here. And before I do anything, I am going to test the connection.
So, we successfully connected to the site. Great. We’ll hit ‘Next’. Now, I’m gonna give this a name and you’ll note that it’s asking for a drive letter. That’s the magic of WebDrive. We’ll hit ‘Next’. We’ll go ahead and connect to the site now. So what it’s done is set up drive ‘W’ on my machine as an FTP connection to the remote server. So if we were to actually go out and take a look at randomisp.com, which is a domain that I in fact own for example purposes. It’s on a server out there somewhere like your own website might be, if you were using shared hosting of some sort. What this allows us to do is navigate the server contents. For example, public.html contains all of the files that are hosted in that website. You can see that randomisp.com has exactly one file – the index.html that is displayed just when you go to the homepage.
What I want to do next is actually show you one of the reasons that WebDrive is such an interesting tool. In the past, if you wanted to access new operations on a file that was on a remote server that required FTP access, you needed a tool that understood FTP by exposing your FTP site as just another drive letter, what WebDrive does is it allows you to use any tool to access the files on the website or on the FTP site directly.
I’m going to use Notepad and what we’re going to do is create a very, very simple example HTML file and I’m going to Save As and I’m going to do is save it as on ‘W’ in this public.html folder as example.html. So what that’s just done is it’s created a new file and automatically uploaded it to the website. And in fact, if I now go over to a browser, any browser will do and hit example.html (if you do it right, of course), there’s our file that we just uploaded to the website and in fact, if you’re looking at this, I’ll leave this file in place. You can actually also go to randomisp.com/example.html and you’ll see this very same file that you saw created in real time.
Again, I didn’t use any special programs to create that file; I just used Notepad. You can use your favorite text editor; you can use whatever you want and actually have it saved directly to the website. Similarly, you can open the file from the website. So we are now at public.html. If I open up index.html, what it has now done is downloaded that file to a temporary location…actually, no, WebDrive caches things so technically, you’re editing in their cache. But they manage it transparently so you’re actually working on the real live file from the website, from the FTP site.
You’ll notice that WebDrive basically is just an icon down here in the notification area. Once you have things configured, in other words, you might set up several different websites as I actually do on my primary machine; then connecting and disconnecting from websites is very easy. I can connect to the preconfigured example or I can go down here at the randomisp example, showing me that it’s already connected. I can now disconnect or I can flush the cache if there’s a caching problem – any number of different things. I am gonna go ahead and disconnect just so we can see that and you’ll notice that the drive W has disappeared from this system as has WebDrive since it was configured not to start with Windows.
So on pretty much any of the machines that I have around here, you’ll see this little tiny WebDrive icon and a fairly long list of sites. Both of my servers, as well as the servers of several clients, show up here and it’s a one-click thing or a two or three-click thing to just connect to them with FTP and then be able to copy, upload, download, edit files directly on their site.
I personally find WebDrive a preferable alternative to some of the more obscure FTP programs. As you probably realize, I’m more of a command line kind of guy. I love to use the Windows command prompt a lot. And this is one of the few approaches that actually lets you do pretty much anything you might want to from the command line.
Other tools, such as Filezilla,
S-copy I think it is WinSCP; there are a few other FTP programs that
provide you a GUI interface, a graphical interface much like Windows Explorer,
and if that’s the kind of thing that you like to work with, that’s fine. I mean,
those are good utilities and in fact, I recommend Filezilla as the other free
alternative, but the nice thing about having this is that any (I’ll go ahead and
reconnect) of the tools that you’re already familiar with (this is Windows
Explorer acting as if it were, for example, Filezilla) allows me to navigate
anything that’s here on this server remotely without having to learn a new
program other than WebDrive itself to set up the connection. After that,
everything is exactly using tools that you’re already familiar with.
Can I answer any question about WebDrive? For the record, I believe WebDrive costs $49.95. If you do a lot of FTP/SFTP work, it is, in my opinion, worth every penny (just double-checking here). Ah, they raised the price since last time – $69.95. So that probably puts it out of the reach of the casual FTP user, but as I said, if what you do is online, if what you do is a lot of online work, be it a single server, be it multiple servers, WebDrive is a very valuable and as I said, to me, worth every penny of what I paid for it. The neat thing about for me is that I think I mentioned earlier when I was setting up the connection is that FTP by itself is an insecure protocol. By that, I mean that everything that is transmitted by FTP is transmitted in the clear including your username and password that was used to access the site; including all of the data that you might be uploading or downloading from the site. I much prefer to use a different protocol called SFTP, which while it sounds similar, is actually unrelated to FTP, but it is a completely secure protocol that uses encryption to basically hide everything from prying eyes. SFTP is supported natively as is the public key encryption, public key authentication that can be used with SFTP as well. So, as I said, I’m a big fan and if you are big into FTP or site management for any reason, it’s a utility that I actually recommend.