With the availability of all-in-one development apps such as Coda and Espresso, a dedicated FTP program is beginning to seem like a fairly archaic way to access remote data. ExpanDrive offers a modern solution to FTP access by integrating seamlessly with the OS X Finder. Once connected, you can modify files from any application as if using a local USB drive.
After using ExpanDrive for a few weeks I can safely say that I won’t be returning to any other system. It works completely as advertised and performance is impressive. This review will take a look at how ExpanDrive works, and suggest a few changes you may need to make before migrating to it fully.
Adding a Server
ExpanDrive doesn’t support an enormous range of servers, but plays nicely with FTP, SFTP and Amazon S3. Adding any of these is done through the “Drive Manager” window, accessible via the menu bar:
The settings are a fairly standard affair for an FTP connection, though the ability to connect automatically when starting your computer is notable. This is particularly useful, and removes the need to manually open ExpanDrive and mount a server.
Obviously, security is a consideration. If your Mac is stolen, having your web server’s hard drive automatically mounted on the desktop (with a saved password) may not be ideal. A thief may not have the know-how to open an FTP app, but messing with your files from a desktop icon is far easier!
Mounting a Server
The simplest way to mount a server is by selecting the ExpanDrive menu bar icon, and clicking on the desired name. A green icon represents a server that is already connected. After a few moments, the FTP server will mount as a drive on your desktop:
There are a number of benefits to this over a standard FTP system:
- You can interact with files directly in the Finder
- Applications can save directly to the server
- You stay connected permanently – even after moving between network connections
Viewing files in the Finder works as you’d expect:
The main factor to consider when taking this approach is performance. ExpanDrive wouldn’t be worth recommending if it caused Finder to hang when moving to-and-from the server, or if it couldn’t offer the speed of a traditional FTP app.
Fortunately, these concerns do not come to fruition. Obviously you’ll experience a minor delay when opening a server and navigating between folders as Internet can’t respond as quickly as your hard drive! The wait was always perfectly acceptable, and never amounted to more than two or three seconds.
I found performance to be slightly better with Amazon S3 than my MediaTemple server, probably due to the greater capacity at Amazon’s end.
If you do decide to adopt a workflow of editing files directly on a server, having a good backup system in place is absolutely crucial. Common sense dictates that only keeping one copy of live files is a bad idea. My system involves making a nightly copy of files to Amazon S3. It’s inexpensive, and certainly worth considering if you decide to use ExpanDrive.
The technology behind ExpanDrive is Google’s MacFUSE, software which extends Mac OS X’s native file handling capabilities to support 3rd-party file systems. It’s fairly technical, but offers a solid base for ExpanDrive.
I’ve been thoroughly impressed after using the app on a day-to-day basis for a few weeks. It makes working with remote files seem like a natural process, rather than a clunky two-step workflow of manually uploading files. It does introduce a few issues such as security and the need for backups (but you had a backup system in place already… right?)
If you regularly interact with remote files, ExpanDrive could offer a much improved way of working. Give it a try (there’s a 30 day trial), then come back to AppStorm as we’ll be announcing an ExpanDrive giveaway tomorrow!