Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fighting with FTP

Some things should just be easier than they are...

Anna has a bunch of GigaPan images she created, and wants to get them to the museum to be printed out giganto-size for the upcoming open house. Well, GigaPans are aptly named -- each one is 2-3GB in size! Putting 'em on a flash drive just isn't practical; only a couple will fit on a DVD; and I didn't have an extra USB hard drive ready to go.

No problem, I thought -- my nifty new network attached storage (NAS) has a FTP server built in to it! I can just fire that up, and we'll be off to the races. Yeah, right.

Step 1: turn on FTP server. This part *was* easy!

Step 2: check that it works. OK, slightly more complicated: the NAS sits on my local network, so the router has to be configured to direct incoming FTP requests to the NAS. Testing that it works means connecting to a remote server, then trying to connect back from there. No big deal, except it doesn't work -- until, after 30 min, it does. Grrr.

Step 3: put the gigapan files on the server. The files are on Anna's work laptop, which has wireless access -- yeah, it will take all night to transfer the files because I still only have 802.11b, but there's time. Oops, forgot we're dealing with a *windows* laptop here... it drops the connection after the 4th file. Doh! Yes, I should have plugged it in to the network, but all the ports on my switch are being used and this just seemed... easier.

Step 3a: find a HD to get the files off the laptop: Three of three that I have at home are formatted for Mac... only the third one has contents disposable enough to warrant re-formatting. But at least with the files copied off onto the HD, if this little FTP experiment fails utterly, there's a reasonable Plan B.

Step 3b: copy files from HD onto NAS: should be straightforward, but while doing this I notice that web browsers are having a hard time connecting to the FTP server. Much pondering and testing ensues... Using a browser (Firefox, Safari, Explorer) works fine on the internal network, but hangs ungracefully if the connection is from the outside. Regular 'ol FTP clients work fine, regardless. A clue is that Lynx (a text-only browser) works where the others fail.

Step 4: What is wrong with the browsers?!?! A digression, but it was a real stumper. Turns out all the failing browsers prefer "passive" FTP, which appears to be problematic in my particular configuration of routers and devices and FTP server. Explorer can be made to default to "active" FTP connections, but Firefox is just stuck unless a plug-in is installed. At least the problem is known/understood (if not readily fixable) so off to the next step...

Step 5: Write & test foolproof instructions for Windows command-line ftp. Annoying, but this just reinforces the superiority of the command line, as far as I'm concerned. I hope the folks on the other end are successful in retrieving the files!

This whole thing really should have taken 30min, tops... instead, I bet it took 6 hours -- 4 last night, and a couple more this morning -- before it was all done.

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