How to Access FTP and WebDAV Sites in Any Operating System’s File Manager

By Chris Hoffman on November 27th, 2014

computer network

You don’t need third-party software to access FTP servers, WebDAV sites, and other remote files shares. Popular desktop operating systems like Windows, Mac, and Linux can all do this out-of-the-box.

You can also access files stored on servers using the NFS, Windows file sharing (SMB), and SSH protocols. Different operating systems support different protocols.

Windows

Windows Explorer has built-in FTP support — in fact, this was the centerpiece of our guide to downloading Firefox without ever opening Internet Explorer on a new Windows installation.

To access a remote server, you can simply plug its address into the location box using the appropriate protocol. For example, to access an FTP site, you’d enter ftp://example.com/your/site or whatever your address is. The prefix is critical — for WebDAV sites, you’d use the http:// prefix instead.

If a username or password is necessary, you’ll be asked for it and you can provide it when prompted.

You can also use the Add a Network Location wizard for this. On Windows 8 or 8.1, click This PC in the sidebar, click the Computer tab on the ribbon bar at the top of the window, and click “Add a network location.” You can also navigate to This PC on Windows 8, or Computer on Windows 7, right-click in the main pane, and select “Add a network location” to access this wizard.

The wizard shows you how to properly enter the path to a WebDAV server, FTP site, or Windows network share. It also provides a Browse dialog that will scan for nearby shares on your local network and provide an easy list so you can add them.

A shortcut for the network location will appear under This PC or Computer when you’re done, giving you easy access to the remote location in File Explroer or Windows Explorer.

Mac OS X

You can do this directly from the Finder on a Mac. Open the Finder, click the Go menu, and select Connect to Server to see the Connect to Server dialog.

Type a server address to connect to an FTP, WebDAV, NFS, SMB/CIFS (Windows file share), or AFP (Apple File Sharing) server. For example, to connect to an FTP server, you’d enter ftp://example.com. After you did, you’d be prompted for a username and password. You’ll then be able to browse its contents and download files directly from the Finder window.

Note that the Finder only has support for browsing FTP shares and downloading files from them. To upload files, you’ll need a third-party FTP client. To connect to other servers, use http:// (WebDAV), nfs:// (NFS), smb:// (SMB/CIFS), or afp:// to specify an address.

Linux

Linux offers a wide variety of different desktop environments, and each one has its own file manager with its own way of accessing network shares. We’ll focus here on the Nautilus file manager used in Ubuntu and other GNOME-based distributions, although other file managers will function in very similar ways. Just try finding a “Connect to Server” option in your file manager of choice.

Nautilus makes this very obvious with a “Connect to Server” option under the Network heading in its sidebar. You can also use the menu — just click File > Connect to Server.

As on other operating system, you’ll need to enter the appropriate server address starting with the protocol. Use the ftp:// prefix for FTP servers, http:// for WebDAV, smb:// for Windows SMB/CIFS network file shares, and nfs:// for NFS.

One very nice feature Nautilus offers is the ability to mount a computer’s file shares via SSH — just use the ssh:// prefix. Any files you have access to as the remote SSH user will be available to you.

There’s also a Browse button, which you can use to scan for local file shares. For example, this includes Windows file shares on the local network.


These built-in features are no substitute for a full, dedicated client for accessing FTP servers, WebDAV sites, and other remote file shares in many situations. However, they make these remote sites easier to access, allowing you to more easily view their contents and access files directly in your file manager of choice. They’re not the ideal solution for professional users, but they beat downloading files from FTP in your web browser.

Bear in mind that all these operating systems include command-line tools for working with network file shares, too. Yes, even Windows includes an ftp command you can access in its Command Prompt!

Image Credit: Cisco Pics on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/27/14
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