Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 6, 1995

Hopkins in Cyberspace

By Mike Field

     Most of us know at least one person who seems to be
completely at ease with computers. It's not just that he or she
is computer literate mind you, it's that annoying habit of
peppering conversations with sentences like: "Oh you're still
using that old program? I just downloaded the gizmomaniac
software from State U. and it takes up less room on my hard
drive, runs a lot faster, plus it automatically fills out my
income taxes every year."
     Yeah, right. How is it these folks keep coming up with new
programs and nifty little software packages that do everything
from games to number crunching? Isn't software something that you
have to buy at the computer store, something that comes in a box?
Don't you have to pay for these things?
     Well, not necessarily. One of the great benefits of being
part of the Internet is the ability to transfer files--including
software you can run on your own computer--from one source to
another. In fact, transferring files is one of the primary
reasons the Net was created in the first place. That, along with
e-mail and remote computer login (known as telnet), is still the
basis for most operations that take place in cyberspace.
     Accessing and transferring a file--which can be either a
straight text file such as the U.S. Constitution or a software
program such as Mosaic or Gopher--is a relatively straightforward
matter. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy. Transferring
files involves using ftp or file transfer protocol, one of the
three basic Internet protocols (the other two being telnet and
e-mail). Remember, a protocol is just a set of definitions
governing how different computers on the Internet will act when
talking with each other. 
     As is so often the case in cyberspace, ftp only becomes
complicated when trying to deal with all the many different kinds
of computers and computer languages that exist out there.
     Learning to ftp is a fundamental skill in successfully using
the Internet to its fullest capabilities. Even users with the
lowest level of Internet connectivity (that is, those users who
have e-mail but nothing else) can take advantage of a nifty
program called ftpmail developed at the Digital Western Research
Laboratory. Ftpmail allows e-mailers with limited connectivity to
connect with and retrieve files from remote ftp sites, but such
connections are both cumbersome and extremely slow (as in several
days). For Internet users with more complete connectivity (which
would include most users at Hopkins) plain old ftp is the way to
     Your local computer service provider may have prepared
information on how to ftp. The Welch Medical Library, for
instance, has prepared a handy one-page instruction set (no. 7,
titled "Anonymous FTP") giving basic information on how to access
and transfer files using the ftp protocol. Internet books such as
Ed Krol's The Whole Internet devote entire chapters to the ins
and outs of ftp.
     Next week, we will explore the use of file transfer protocol
by visiting an ftp site and retrieving an appropriate file. 

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