Accelerated File Transfer: The Difference Between FTP and UDP

Many organizations still use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to move large files. Slow and vulnerable to poor network conditions, FTP is legacy technology. In an age when file sizes are only getting bigger, projects have shorter lead times, and work is distributed around the globe, is accelerated FTP possible?

The History of FTP

Before answering the question, let’s take a look at the beginnings of FTP. Abhay Bhusan authored the original specification almost 50 years ago. In fact, the current specification dates way back to October 1985. Although the specification has been amended since then, FTP is very much an old school file transfer method.

FTP exchanges data over TCP/IP (or Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol). This protocol makes accelerating file transfers with FTP difficult if not impossible. From timeouts to latency, TCP presents issues that another protocol, UDP, does not.

UDP Emerges to Optimize Speed

Enter UDP (or User Datagram Protocol). UDP has actually been around almost as long as FTP, but virtually ignored for decades until faster broadband speeds became available. Because file transfers over TCP take so long even with higher bandwidth, UDP has become the standard for accelerated file transfer.

FTP and other TCP-based file transfer systems rely on a guarantee that all sent data is successfully received and in the right order. Over long distances or unreliable connections, these built-in confirmations force TCP to send data slower than the network actually allows. Since UDP doesn’t need such guarantees, file transfer applications can optimize network traffic and avoid potential slowdowns.

Furthermore, timeouts due to poor network conditions and latency can happen with transfers over TCP. When a connection drops, FTP transfers must start again from zero – even if it was already at 99 percent! As a result, valuable time goes to waste. With UDP, transfers resume from where they left off once the network connection is restored.

A post-production studio using JetStream to transfer terabytes of data between locations in Canada and India provides a good example. Power once went down at the Indian location for three days, which obviously affected file transfers. As soon as the network came back online, JetStream restarted and transfers immediately resumed without any loss of data. Built using a custom UDP protocol, JetStream didn’t quit – and it still doesn’t.

Accelerated FTP is an Oxymoron

The above outlines why “accelerated” and “FTP” don’t really go together. To transfer large files quickly, a UDP-based solution like JetStream wins the day. Recent tests show JetStream outperforms FTP by almost 100 percent when moving data between distant locations such as Montreal and Mumbai. Features such as smart send to automatically adjust transmission rates based on changing network conditions and the ability to prioritize transfers enhance efficiency even more.

If you’re looking to speed FTP transfers, it’s time to consider making the switch to JetStream.

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