Blog Post

Mac OS X FTP Clients Throwdown

While I am not sure how many there are, one thing is for certain – there are far more FTP clients than one person needs. This is a classic problem when looking for a piece of software. There are dozens of offerings, but which one is the best for what I need. Hopefully that problem will be addressed in this article. Although not every client was included, I tried to demo as many usable clients as I could. There are a lot of clients, and this should help most people figure out which one is right for them.

What Counted

There are a lot of different features for each client. No two clients had the same feature sets, except the one that was clearly a white-label version of the other. Obviously, the most important feature was the client’s ability to do what ftp does: connect, view, and transfer. Every client did this, but some did it better and with more options (i.e. sftp or TLS). As with most Mac applications, the UI was a major part of the score. Not just how it looked, but the usability. The last major scoring point was features such as remote editing, preview, tabs, bookmarks, etc. The Top 5 is a pretty good group of clients, each with it’s own strong points, and all worth their price (except Cyberduck, which is free). After the Top 5, however, there is a sharp decline. Here’s how they stacked up…

The Top 5

1. Transmit – Transmit was the clear winner. It’s as close to perfect as you could want in an FTP application. Easy to use, has nearly every feature, looks amazing, and the demo is actually quite handy. That’s right, even if you don’t want to fork over the cash for this app, I would recommend keeping it in your Applications folder for a rainy day. The demo version allows for 10 minutes of use, which is plenty of time to get something done, and in some cases transfer an entire web site. $29.95 from http://www.panic.com/transmit/

2. Interarchy – Interarchy is not for the novice user. This is clearly an advanced app, but it’s very good at what it does – everything. If you need a full Internet transfer and analysis suite, this is your app. I would recommend this app for anyone who does a lot of data transfers in multiple protocols. The UI is perfect for a pro app, but may have confused beginners. Well worth a try. $39 from http://www.interarchy.com/main/

3. Cyberduck – While cyberduck is missing a few advanced features, you can’t beat the price – free. Keep in mind I did not take that into account when putting Cyberduck in third. It’s a great FTP app. I tested all of these FTP clients, and I can honestly say this is the one I use. Drawers are probably my least favorite OS X UI element, so I always respect an app that manages to use them in a way that I don’t mind. OmniWeb’s tabs and Cyberduck’s bookmarks are possibly the only two I actually like to use. At its price there is no reason not to try this app or at least have it on hand (and now your Adium duck will have a friend in the dock). Free at http://cyberduck.ch/

4. Yummy FTP – Yummy FTP has a clean, easy to use interface, lots of features, and stacks up well against the others above it. It has a neat “DualBrowse” mode that is quite useful. I could live without the brushed metal, but all-in-all, a solid app. $25 from http://www.yummysoftware.com/

5. Fetch – The oldest FTP client in the Top 5, and one of the oldest for Mac, Fetch delivers consistent performance. The interface is not quite as intuitive as Transmit, but it doesn’t get in the way. The lack of resume is the only major flaw. Other than that, it stacks up very well, and is a great app to round out the Top 5.

*Although the Top 5 is in order of rating, any one of these apps would be a great FTP application for most users. Each has their strong points and weaknesses.

The Specs

FTP Spreasheet Abridged
Download full PDF comparing ALL the clients (33KB)

* This data is based on current versions of each application as of August 1, 2006 from each company’s website and from the product itself. The Apple Blog makes no claim that these are entirely accurate, but is simply what data we could find for each.

The Others

Quick notes about the others in the full comparison (in order)…

CaptainFTP – Lots of features but a UI that looks so ugly I wouldn’t recommend the app.

RBrowser – Crippled demo (only FTP), lack of modern Nice to Have features, and it’s high price make this an unattractive app stacked up against the new generation of FTP apps.

SimpleFTP – It’s simple, that’s for sure. Too simple, and on OS X where we expect our simple apps to at least look good, it does not.

Fugu and Son of Fugu – Fugu is clearly the second best free FTP app, but unfortunately it’s far inferior to Cyberduck. Son of Fugu adds nothing.

CuteFTP – Why do I need to give an email address to download this app? Here is the direct link: Download CuteFTP. But, before you download, keep in mind this app lacks most advanced features for the same price as Transmit.

BulletProof FTP – Clearly a repackaging of CuteFTP. Couldn’t they have picked a better app?

ecxFTP – My notes for this app say, “Non-intuitive, featureless, and ugly.” Not to mention it did not even bother prompting me when I tried to overwrite an existing file. It just went right ahead and deleted the old file.

OneButton FTP – Although early in it’s development, it’s already quite bad. I didn’t easily find a way of canceling a transfer, which was about the only thing I did successfully with this app. Avoid it – at least for now.

Summary

If you use FTP all the time, buy Transmit. For advanced users who need more, grab Interarchy. Everyone should have Cyberduck no matter what. For those who have the time, give Yummy and Fetch a try- they are solid apps, and they won’t disappoint. The rest of the apps on this list, simply put, are probably not worth your time. A couple work just fine, but with 5 great apps, including one free one, why bother? What most amazed me is that apps like excFTP cost money.

When taking price into consideration, Cyberduck wins hands-down, but this very good lineup of FTP apps will satisfy just about anyone needing to transfer files. As a final note, I’d like to say that I use two command-line apps quite frequently: ncftp (ncftp.com) and sftp (built-in).

53 Responses to “Mac OS X FTP Clients Throwdown”

  1. I’m not agreeing with Transmit being listed as number one. Although I’m using it (v.4.1.5), it suffers several critical bugs in drag and drop and synchronisation.
    Ex: Sometimes you download a folder and it doesn’t copy the whole content without saying ANYTHING about it. Synchronisation also doesn’t refresh the remote content so, if the remote content has changed the synchronisation won’t take it into account…
    Few bugs but potentially very critical issues !

  2. Thanks to Jim Jordan for reminding everyone that Filezilla also exists for Mac.
    I always find it funny how Mac users like to pay for crappy software while they can get high quality open-source for free.
    I agree Filezilla doesn’t look that great on OSX but it does work great and has all the features you can expect from an FTP client.

  3. Brandon Klapholz

    This is perhaps the lamest article I have ever come across comparing OS X ftp clients.

    What exactly do you consider an “advanced feature”?

    ncftp, net2ftp, manyot her options exist including TextWrangler’s built in ftp, and a thousand more on freshmeat and sourceforge – although Interarchy, Viacom, and Yummy aren’t bad… i refuse to pay for http://ftp…thats ridiculous – you don’t even have to on Windows.

    I will concede the overall client list for ftp on OS X is relatively pathetic compared to other platforms.

  4. Minor correction: The comment that “Son of Fugu” adds nothing is incorrect. It adds the ability to do remote editing with any application, as opposed to Fugu, which only supports external editors implementing the BBEdit protocol.

  5. Re: Jason,
    Panic rep here, we didn’t charge for our universal release. In fact, if you look at the 3.5 release notes you’ll see a plethora of features without a hint of an upgrade fee. We only charge across major versions (ie. 2.0 to 3.0) which we feel are well worth the modest upgrade price. Thanks for the kind words about Transmit…we’re glad you like it!

    cheers, will

  6. Hmmm…I don’t think Captain FTP has an ugly interface and I think it is wrong of you to eliminate potentially the top client in this category based on a subjective opinion. Most of the reviews on the shareware sites indicate users like me really like the interface.

    Captain FTP is rated in the top two or three by most independent Mac reviewers like MacWorld for example.

    It is definitely the most reliable and full featured client out there for heavy duty users and beginners.

    Looks like you do have a problem, I have made synchronizations with the Captain for projects containing 5,000 files and over 1GB in size without a hitch. I have also been able to do this with some of the other clients you mentioned.

  7. RBrowser – Crippled demo (only FTP), lack of modern Nice to Have features, and it’s high price make this an unattractive app stacked up against the new generation of FTP apps.

    I’ve been using the RBrowser ‘demo’ for a while, and it’s great for doing simple FTP tasks. Though Cyberduck is OK too :/

  8. Erik, I think the problem is your internet connection, your NAT box (if you have one), or your ftp server. We regularly transfer *very* large directories with Interarchy, the biggest at the moment contains 368892 files. I find it difficult to believe Interarchy is the problem, especially when so many other ftp clients fail too.

  9. I do use FTP every day – in conjunction with a textmate. Ideally the FTP is built into the editor or the OS (even better) I’m not paying $30 for something as basic as (S)FTP.

  10. Eric: Yes, we do test with transfers of thousands of files. We’d love to figure out why Fetch stalls on your big transfers, and correct the problem in a future release. If you have some time and are comfortable collecting packet traces please drop me a note at bugs at fetchsoftworks dot com.

  11. I tried them all, and have spent too much money and time looking for one that actually works in OS X. I frequently upload hundreds of small files and Yummy FTP is the only one that has been successful consistently without stalling out (and no I am not affiliated with them in any way either – just a satisfied customer). The Terminal FTP/SFTP is consistent I should say, but I do like to have drag and drop simplicity. I don’t know what the problem with all the other FTP apps is, but as a web developer this is really not something they should have problems with. You can’t believe how annoying it is when you have a couple hundred files and have to go manually check all of them to make sure they weren’t corrupted, because the FTP app decided to stall out. And NEVER being able to upload that new photo album, for example, without uploading only 10 or so files at a time is a complete waste of my time. Other ftp apps time out and continue to the next, etc. Then you get to play the “go search for the corrupted file game”. I used Cyberduck for a long time and just couldn’t work with all the force quit/stalling. It’s getting better, but not there yet. I’d still condider Cyberduck a very beta, and wonder why the author of this blog gave it a strong 3rd place. Drawers for bookmarks? Yea, great, whoopie, but if the app locks up all the time during a process of what it’s supposed to do, who cares? Cap’n FTP had plenty of stall outs too, along with Transmit, Interarchy, and Fetch. All the same problems. Maybe it’s my target FTP server (PureFTP on Linux mostly), but Yummy FTP handles all those big, complex uploads with tons of files, no problem, where the other FTP apps just conk out after maybe 1MB or so, or after a few files. It makes me wonder if the other guys even tested their software trying to upload more than 50 or so files at one time?