ExpanDrive: Seamless FTP Access in OS X

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:

Adding an FTP Server

Adding an FTP Server

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:

Mounting a Server

Mounting a Server

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:

Viewing a Server in Finder

Viewing a Server in Finder

Performance

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.

Backing Up

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.

Conclusion

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!


  • http://twitter.com/AdrianHerritt Adrian

    Nice review David. I keep hearing good things about ExpanDrive. I’m going to grab the trial and compare it to MacFusion (which also uses MacFUSE, but is free.)

    • http://twitter.com/sulcalibur Sulcalibur

      Tried this and as far as I can see it’s pretty much the same thing that they are charging $40 for here :o

  • http://www.webkarnage.net WebKarnage

    Thanks for the good review. One thing you don’t touch on is price, and that’s where I’m gonna need convincing. FTP doesn’t seem like a massive issue, but it will be interesting to see how much I feel it adds to my workflow. I’ll give it a try and see.

  • http://www.jhuskisson.com/ Jay

    What are you using to get the display of drives like that on your desktop?

    • http://twitter.com/AdrianHerritt Adrian

      If you are talking about the details underneath the icons, in Finder hit Cmd+J and check the box that says ‘Show item info’. Play with the ‘Label position’ and ‘Grid spacing’ to get the same look.

  • http://macmagazine.uol.com.br Bruno Casarini
  • http://www.webkarnage.net WebKarnage

    I am trying to get this to behave at the moment, and I’m struggling. I must have something on here it doesn’t like, and I lost a website for 15 mins while playing with it! If I copy an updated folder to overwrite an older one, that’s often when it happens. It says it has copied the new files across when it hasn’t, and then it might behave like the server’s been fully or partly erased! Fortunately log back in and everything is there, apart from some of what you asked it to copy.

    I am trying the customer support, and we’ll see how it goes. Not matching Cyberduck with synch function for FTP at all as it stands now, and that’s without bringing in the cost of it.

    Hopefully this will get resolved, I’ll post back with what happens.

  • http://john.onolan.org John

    Glad you’ve decided to write about Mac apps again and not OSX functions! This looks great!

  • http://www.cuby.co.nr Henry Bennett

    Look like a really great application! For those simply looking for easy access to a server such as FTP through the Finder, it’s a good idea to note that from the Finder Menu Bar, you can go:

    ‘Go > Connect to Server’. Then just type in the address of the server, and click connect. Hit in any other required details and it should open it up for you in the Finder. This works great, and I use it all the time for uploading to FTP servers.

    Cheers

    • http://www.thegraphicmac.com/ Jim

      I’m not sure how you’re using the OSX finder to UPLOAD files to FTP via the Connect to Server option – given that OSX doesn’t support FTP file uploading in the Finder. Are you sure you don’t have a 3rd party app like the one in the article set up?

      • http://www.cuby.co.nr Henry Bennett

        Hi Jim sorry I think you might be right actually. I was sure I’d used it before for uploading, but it looks like you can only view files from an FTP server, after trying just now.

        Thanks, and sorry for any confusion.

  • http://garcya.us/blog Garcya

    This looks interesting, but I’m with Transmit :)

    • http://www.solutions-inc.co.uk/ Dan Palmer

      I like Transmit, but the UI feels a little old (at least last time i used the trial) and it doesn’t integrate with Finder. I think that is ExpanDrive’s great feature.

  • Oliver Lillie

    I find it a little slow I must say. compared to the likes of Transmit, but maybe I need to give it more time

  • http://www.jashsayani.com Jash Sayani

    I have been using ExpanDrive since 1.2 and its awesome!

    I have 2 questions:

    1. Who can u show Free Space near desktop icons ??

    2. Whats the HD icon on your menu bar (Left of iSync) ??

    Thanks!

  • http://www.idistillery.com Jason

    I see from the screenshots that you use DropBox (or at least you have it installed). Curious about the potential use of ExpanDrive with DropBox as the auto-backup copy. I use Dreamweaver right now, but I code by hand so it’s essentially a glorified (and over-featured) FTP client / version manager for me.

    I’d love to make a switch and ExpanDrive sounds like the ticket so long as one can specify the local folder with which the remote drive is being synced… is that possible?

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  • Peeter

    @Jash – the HD icon looks like SMARTReporter: http://www.corecode.at/smartreporter/index.html

  • http://www.solutions-inc.co.uk/ Dan Palmer

    This looks like a must-have app. I use Espresso, but I am slightly disappointed with the FTP capabilities and integration with the Finder would be so much more useful.

    Apps with integrated FTP are like computers with integrated graphics. They are never going to be as good as the real dedicated application. Also, MacFUSE is a great platform to build on. I already use NTFS MacFUSE drivers and it is a great system.

    Looks like yet another killer app for the Mac.

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  • http://twitter.com/sulcalibur Sulcalibur

    I need a decent FTP but with the likes of Flow, Forklift and Transit offering more and at a better cheaper price, this ExpanDrive just isn’t an option sadly :(

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  • Adam

    Has anyone tried ExpanDrive with Textmate? I used to use ExpandDrive a while back (the new version seems to have better FTP engine) and it was painfully slow to open/save files on TextMate.

  • Shade

    I bought this today. partially because a friend recommended it and had a discount code, partially because i had seen it featured here.

    My servers are lightening fast, cloud not shared or anything like that. I have never seen the multi-colored spin-wheel as often and for as long as i did with expandrive. The lag and hangs were ridiculously slow.

    I tried to find a forum or something to see if other people had the same problem as i did. Only to find that their support page is pretty useless.

    Just one more application i own that i’ll never use. With all these software bundles that include some good but alot of bad software in them, my list of owned software i’ll never use is racking up pretty quickly.

  • Cabut

    I bought this app without doing a lot of testing on it. I was expecting a bit more refinement for the $40 premium over MacFuse (really slow and laggy, clunky interface). I hope they can take some of the criticism found here and elsewhere and really tune this app up.

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