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Can we compare file transfer protocols?

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I'm trying to get my head around the different file transfer protocols.  I'd like to discuss the pros/cons of them here.  I'm planning on doing some more sophisticated backup procedures next year, along with some business plans, and so forth.  I'd like to create a closed system of file transferring for myself and my friends/business partners that will work well.  By closed, I mean not using other people's servers or services, other than the ISP.

My goal (please read and think about carefully):
Whatever I use, I'd like it to mimic regular, local file management as much as possible.  This means minimal connection/reconnection issues, minimal security obstacles AFTER the initial setup.  Drives, folders, files can be setup to behave just like local files.  In other words, moving and copying and renaming is not quirky just because it's not local.  dragging/dropping works well.  The files/folders can appear in a regular file management program without too much fussing with it.

So, I'm pretty familiar with ftp.  ftp is good and all, but not very secure obviously.  I also don't like how with ftp there's always the reconnection, losing connection issues which are constantly interrupting your workflow.  Even the best ftp programs struggle with this.  I think it's just inherent to ftp's nature.  And it's difficult to copy/move files from local to server folders.

I have limited experience with the other ftp-like services like sftp and secure ftp.  Most of my complaints are the same as with regular ftp.  The only extra complaint I have is with the initial setup and connection.  With the added security, there are more things to do in the beginning like passwords, ports, settings, authentication settings, certificates, etc.  But once it's set up, it's pretty much just like ftp.  So I prefer the added security, but still would like something more elegant.

VPN is something I have recently been exposed to.  It seems to me to be even more of a headache than the ftp varieties.  Certificates, servers, setup is pretty difficult.  I just tried it out at my work (from home) using Cisco's, and it's pretty slow and very unstable as far as losing connection.  It makes it unusable to me.  I'd like something that, once connected, can stay connected with minimum hassle and without me knowing about how it's retaining that connection.  It bothers me to see a dialog or tray icon keep popping up every two minutes while it loses and reconnects to the server.  Very annoying.

Why do all these things have such hard times staying connected?

So what else is there?  Right now, if I had to choose, I would go for sftp.  It comes closest to what I want.  I just wanted to explore all the alternatives.

Personally, I use a VPN connection to create an intercontinental connection that is actually quite solid (from Paraguay to the Netherlands). With Cisco's VPN software. So my experience is totally different than yours, I'm afraid.

Today (Paraguay is in its rain season) rain fell for an hour resulting in blanking streets with 10 cm of water. In that hour the wind was blowing that amount of water horizontally. I use an wireless antenna to connect to my provider, but all the bad weather did not have any effect on my VPN connection.

VPN is quite hard to set up properly, but after that work long as nothing (dramatically) changes in either software or hardware on both ends. 


I am no network expert, but I really think you are ignoring a lot of the reasons WHY the disconnections occur.  Moreover, you are not considering the difficulty in even setting up a basic connection, let alone what you are looking for.  FTP as a protocol, from my understanding, is a point to point connection for a file or files.  You define what you want sent and it sends it.  It builds the header file, sends the data, and reconstructs it on the other end.  Once that is done the session is closed.  If it doesn't close, the other end doesn't know the transmission is complete and it never rebuilds the bits in the correct order. (Maybe someone else can explain it better/correctly).

Other protocols, such as HTTP will appear to keep the connection open, but in reality just burst data in a similar manner.  The problem here is latency and data control.  Data can not handle disruption of the data stream without corruption.  Even on a LAN this can be an issue.  This becomes even more severe when you go from system to system and perhaps (even probably) from system structure to system structure.  Sure the protocol is the same, but system requirements make implementation(s) different and therefore, potentially, less than perfectly compatible.

Then you have multiple networks to deal with, any one of which can break (or be broken) at any time outside of your control.  I work as a Network Monitor (among other duties) for my company and it is a rare day when we don't have some sort of WAN outage, not to mention the numerous LAN outages somewhere in our network.  That is why there is so much redundancy built in, and to build that in costs a LOT of money.

So what does this all have to do with your request?  Well first off, it means ANY solution that fits what you want is very likely going to be rather complicated to set up.  Moreover, how much control do you need/want and how much would you want/need for the other users?  From my initial readings I would say VPN is likely the way for you to go, but perhaps something like HTTP using a web sharing interface (like SkyDrive, et. al.) would work better?  Does it have to integrate directly into your file manager?  You seem to imply it should.  If so, then the VPN is again the way to go (or something REALLY crazy like VDI, but that is way over the top just to integrate file sharing...).  Perhaps just having a drive letter assigned to a file would work with something like DropBox?  Don't know if you can do that, but there are some services out there you can (or at least could - I used to have one but can't remember the service anymore - I think it was SkyDrive before they got bought by Microsoft, but I could be way off base).  Even if that works, though, it still would not have an always on connection like a LAN drive.  If you are not fond of even that kind of speed and insist that it should be instant, like a local folder, well then I give up.  I can't even imagine any system capable of that across the internet without dedicated off-line wires going to each computer in the network.  Again, I am no expert, and I may have a lot of this slightly (or not so slightly) wrong, but I am sure others can correct this.  Never the less, I can say the options I presented are as close as I can come to a suggestion and why I think you are over-simplifying your request.

Thanks for the discussions so far.  OK, it sounds like maybe I've just had bad experiences with VPN.  I wouldn't mind at all for VPN to be the solution.  What are the pros/cons of VPN vs. FTP (any flavor)?  I'd like to know.

I don't mind if it's complicated to set up, as long as once its set up, it works with minimum headache.  Also, yes, I do prefer instant folder/file access, but I realize that there is going to be some latency and stuff.  That's fine.  I'm not intending to use it as a reliable streaming service or anything.  More like file management and backup.  And I don't want to use a service like Dropbox or skydrive because the file transfer sizes I'm talking about are many gigabytes.  I don't want a middle man, either.  I use dropbox now, and it's good for my personal little files and stuff, but not for my large databases and collections of stuff.  nor do I want those companies even dealing with that stuff of mine.

It sounds like VPN would be worth exploring further.  Maybe my company just hasn't implemented it optimally.  I wouldn't be surprised, our IT hardly has a sense of user-friendliness, which is typical I suppose.

Okay, I will give it a go:

Pros - Quick and easy to set up.
         Basic command line client built into most (all?) Operating Systems
         Fairly easy to navigate and manage files
         Secure protocol extensions available
         May be used for direct point to point connections

Cons - New connection per transfer
          No real flow control e.g. easily corrupted files if transfer is interrupted (though there are some programs to
             mitigate this through resuming techniques).
          Not all clients support all protocol variants, especially secure variants

Pros - Secured and/or Encrypted connections (by definition, otherwise it isn't "Private")
         Can be set up to break all other connections (prevents bridging attacks on a network)
         Full access to ALL domain resources once authenticated (more than just file transfers)
         Fairly reliable connection once established (compared to other remote access technologies)
         VPN servers built into many routers, both commercial and personal/consumer grade to minimize difficulties

Cons - Very difficult to set up, even worse to set up properly
          Requires a separate client that may not even be supported on all OS's
          Can be difficult to troubleshoot where the connection issue exists (client, OS, internet, or Server)
          Requires a Domain (or other network authentication mechanism - not built into VPN)
          VPN server required to control connection to network (though one built into routers can be used for
              small or basic services as stated in Pro section).

I think this covers most or all that I can think of.  VPN has many more Pros and Cons, but that is to be expected since it provides more services/features. 


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