A computer network exists to ease the transfer of data from one computer to another. Before networks became common in homes and offices, moving even a small file would require transferring the file to some temporary medium, often a floppy disk, taking that temporary storage to the other location, and then copying the file onto the new destination computer. It took more time and effort and moving a file to a computer in another building or location required someone to walk or drive the disk there. Now with the ubiquity of networks this task has become an almost transparent action. We routinely move files around our local networks with little more difficultt than moving files within on our computer.
This easy transfer still only holds in when the source and destination are two computers on a local network. Once you need to transfer a file over the Internet, that is to a computer somewhere else, things get more complicated. This is such a common need and over time several dedicated protocols such as FTP and SFTP arose for this task. Unlike the seemingly transparent transfers on the local network, transfers with these protocols require a specialized client such as Cyberduck or FileZilla to move files between the remote location and your local computer.
The ExpanDrive app seeks to bring the convenience of a local drive to remote storage normally accessed through FTP, SFTP, and on Amazon’s S3 service. It makes a FTP, SFTP, or Amazon S3 connection appear like a USB drive plugged into your computer and transfers to these remote systems as simple as moving a file to an external hard drive. Let’s look at how well it works.
ExpanDrive can be downloaded from the ExpanDrive web site. ExpanDrive is not a new app and was reviewed several years ago on Mac.Appstorm. A recent update to version 3.0 changed the ExpanDrive interface quite a bit and added a number of new features. The new interface appears heavily inspired by the Windows 8 style, but still feels like a Mac OS app. I also think the new design marks an improvement over the previous interface. It brings the interface on the Windows and Mac applications to a similar design while still feeling like the native OS. This is an advantage to those who use both environment like myself.
The program allows a thirty day free trial and costs $39.95 if you decide to continue using after the trial. The program is built especially for web designers and server administrators who have files on a remote system that you wish to edit and modify directly. The traditional workflow in this case was to use a dedicated application to bring those files down to your computer, use another app to make the needed updates, and then go back to the transfer app to move the changed files back up. Another case was to create files in an app and then use a dedicated transfer app to move the files to the server. This process is slow and error prone. Every web designer has at least once forgotten to upload a changed file back to the server resulting in an error or appearance problem for a web site.
Remote Files in Finder
Setting up a connection to a remote server is easy. On the New Drive tab, you first pick the server type (FTP, FTPS, or Amazon S3). For FTP and FTPS you then enter the name or IP address of the server along with your username and password. For Amazon S3 connections you will need to supply your Access Key Id an Secret Access Key to connect. Optional settings allow you to pick a custom port for SFTP and FTP along with entering a nickname and default remote path on the server for the connection.
Once created connections are persistent. As long as ExpanDrive runs, your connection will persist until you disconnect it. If your Mac goes to sleep, it will connect upon waking. If your network connection goes away, then ExpanDrive will reestablish the connection once it returns. It’s pretty close to being set and forget for remote access. When done working with the connection you can disconnect it either using the drop down menu from the menu bar icon or the eject icon next to the link. The menu bar allows quick access to start connections, disconnect active connections, or bring up the interface.
Transfers feel about as responsive as using a native client. I used the program to transfer a couple of medium sized web sites to a new server and transfers felt as fast as using FileZilla or a similar client. I also found the convenience of having the connections show as tabs in Explorer (thanks to TotalFinder) made moving files to the server quick and easy.
For Amazon S3 connection ExpanDrive works very well. The speed feels fast and responsive in my testing. Setting it up was quick and I soon had access to my buckets on S3. Being able to connect directly and work with them through the same interface as any other folder was very useful. For web sites being hosted off Amazon S3 the speed up uploading and updating alone is worth the program price.
Overall I like ExpanDrive. The program provides convenience when working with files on remote servers. Finder becomes your interface to remote servers making editing and copying files fast and easy. Apps with no knowledge of FTP can now directly open and access files on any server.
The cost feels a bit high for what it does, but if you spend a lot of time working on servers then that ease of use and time saved will rapidly pay for itself. Overall ExpanDrive feels like a solid product and worth a look if you find yourself talking with FTP, FTPS, or Amazon S3 servers on a regular basis from your Mac.
The developers have let us know that they’re nearing release of the next version of ExpanDrive, which adds a lot of new features, including Google Drive integration. We’re looking forward to look at it.