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How to use command line FTP

FTP is a useful way to get files to your retro PCs once you put them on your network. You can use a GUI FTP client, but command line FTP isn’t hard and doesn’t require you to install anything additional. Here’s how to use command line FTP.

Setting up your retro DOS box as an FTP server

how to use command line ftp

A GUI FTP client is convenient, when your machine can run one. But it helps to know how to use command line FTP when that’s all you have.

Here’s how to get an FTP server running on your retro DOS box. I prefer to use the DOS machine as the server and my modern machine as the client, since it’s not a great idea to have an FTP server running all the time.

All modern operating systems still have a command line FTP client. And it provides a true retro experience. FTP was the main way I transferred files on the Internet for much of the 90s.

A GUI FTP client is convenient, but if you can’t use one for whatever reason, command line FTP doesn’t have to be hard to use. You can get by if you can remember a small number of commands.

How to use command line FTP: Three commands

These are three most useful commands you need to remember:


Issuing the command BINARY instructs the FTP client and server to transfer files without any translation. This is the most useful file transfer mode but isn’t always the default. So never assume it is. Issue this command before transferring files to avoid corruption.


Issuing the command PUT instructs the FTP client to upload a file. Simply type PUT (filename) to transfer a file from your local machine to the server.


Issuing the command GET instructs the FTP client to download a file. Simply type GET (filename) to transfer a file from your server to the local machine.


Issuing the command BYE logs out of the remote FTP server.

Other FTP commands

Here are some other useful command line FTP commands you can use. You won’t use them as often, but knowing them can be helpful.


Issuing the command DELETE instructs the FTP client to delete a file. Simply type DELETE (filename) to delete a file on your server.


Issuing the command DIR lists the files on the remote server.


Issuing the command ! drops you to a local command prompt, so you can issue DOS commands on your local machine. Type EXIT to return to your FTP client.

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