ForkLift: An FTP Client That Excels at Heavy Lifting

Despite being a relatively old system, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) still has great value to those of us who deal with uploading and downloading lots of data between servers. Some have argued that FTP is dying, along with hierarchical file systems. However, for anyone who has ever worked on a website or dealt with servers like Amazon’s S3, FTP is still the fastest way to manage all your files.

There are plenty of options out there for Mac users who need a solid FTP client. The most important factors for most users when deciding which is best tend to be speed, layout, and price. Today we are going to look a fresh look at the recently updated ForkLift from Binary Nights (version 2.5), and see how it stacks up against the competition.

Getting Started

How quickly you get up and running with ForkLift, or any FTP client for that matter, depends on your comfort level with certain acronyms. If you know and understand things like FTP, SFTP, WebDav, S3, etc., then the setup process for ForkLift won’t be any more difficult to understand any other FTP app you’ve used. You simply click on the connect button to open up a menu, which allows you to enter server details and login information, and you’re ready to go. You get additional options here as you would expect with an FTP client, including changing the port number, local and remote paths, base URL, and encoding type.

The "connect" window is clean and easy to understand.

Design

ForkLift doesn’t differentiate itself from the competition in any major ways. The main window is divided into two areas, one showing the files and folders of whatever server you are connected to, and the other shows you your local machine. At the top of each window is a file path that helps you visualize where you are.

Ideally, I think a good Mac FTP client should simulate the experience of using the Finder, and in this way, ForkLift succeeds. In fact, one part of the window design that gives it a leg up on certain competitors is having a left hand column, just like Finder, that gives you a listing of devices, shared drives, current connections, and favorites.

Previous versions of ForkLift were eye sores full of excessively decorated icons cluttering up every pixel of the window. The current version has toned all of that down, and the graphics all fit nicely with the more subdued Lion theme.

The dual-pane window makes working with your local and remote files a breeze.

You can change the viewing format to icons, list, hierarchy, and cover flow. As with Finder, you can also choose what columns will appear in list view (such as date added, date modified, etc.).

Like many other FTP clients, ForkLift has the very useful tab feature (something that Apple needs to implement into Finder). Other FTP apps like Transmit have tabs as well, but what I like about ForkLift is that it lets you use tabs in both windows if you are using the dual pane view.

Being able to use tabs for both your local and remote panes is great for power-users.

The top of the window shows the progress bar. When inactive, it takes up an unfortunate amount of space, similar to the top of the iTunes window. I prefer Transmit’s progress bar that sits at the bottom of the window, where it is more out of the way. When you aren’t transferring anything, the activity bar in ForkLift just seems to take up too much space.

Supported protocols for ForkLift vs. Transmit.

Despite having been released almost a year ago, there are still some apps that haven’t made themselves full-screen compatible. FTP clients are definitely apps that benefit from having more screen space, because all the files you need to deal with can be accessed in a Finder-like window. Fortunately, ForkLift has made the jump, and using it in full-screen was a pleasure. Some may find it unnecessary to use ForkLift or any other FTP client in full-screen, but I personally prefer it. You can also use Quick Look inside ForkLift, which I found removes any need to exit out of full-screen to open Preview.

Performance

I decided to do a causal test of speeds for various FTP app that I have. In addition to ForkLift, I tested transfers with Flow and Transmit. There are a ton of other options out there that I’ve tried in the past, such as Cyberduck and FileZilla, but this is a review of ForkLift, and getting a comparison to two other apps should be sufficient.

The upload time for ForkLift was slightly faster in my experience than top competitors like Transmit.

I used the same 25MB Adobe file from my hard drive, and sent it to my web site’s server with each app. ForkLift took 35 seconds, Transmit took 41, and Flow took 44. Downloading the file, on the other hand, was much faster and about the same for each app. It is important to note that this was not a very scientific test and that your results may vary. I did perform the test several times, though, and ended up getting the same numbers each time with a negligible variance.

Aside from transfers, general performance with ForkLift was excellent as well. Everything is snappy, from opening folders to logging into a server. Speaking of logging in, I found ForkLift to be almost instantaneous, Transmit to take a half second longer, and Flow to be dreadfully slow in comparison. Further speeding up your workflow is a wide-array of available shortcuts, all of which can be customized.

All in all, ForkLift was the single best-performing FTP client I’ve ever used. I have been using Transmit for years and even it still hangs up frequently when trying to connect to my server. ForkLift hasn’t done that to me once.

Features

ForkLift has a ton of great features that I loved having at my disposal. The first is Stacks, which is a simple way to organize certain commonly used files. I was using ForkLift while working on a WordPress design, and I found Stacks to be great for keeping a few files that I frequently needed close at hand without having to create a separate folder on my computer.

Like many FTP clients, you can use a sync function to simply copy everything from one folder into another. ForkLift expands on this common functionality with “synclets,” which gives you a bit more control over the sync actions you need. Once you customize what you want to have synced for a given folder, you can save those settings, making any future syncs a breeze.

The dock icon next to ForkLift is a Droplet I used to quickly send files to a folder on my server.

One of my favorite features in ForkLift is “Droplets.” Droplets are shortcuts that you can place anywhere in your system, (I placed mine in the dock), and then anything that you drag onto it gets sent to the remote folder of your choice. If you’ve ever used DropZone, this feature will look familiar to you.

You can, like other FTP clients, mount connections to your server on your computer. One area where Transmit beats ForkLift here is the availability of a menulet for quick access to mounted drives. However, having that sidebar with devices in ForkLift sort of negates the need for a menulet.

Conclusion

In speaking with other people about FTP clients, I get the sense that Transmit is perhaps the most popular among Mac-users. However, after playing around with ForkLift, I would crown it as my favorite. Transmit certainly has a more appealing visual design, but I think ForkLift has a few features that make it a better value.

Some people spend a lot of their time looking at an FTP window, so Transmit’s eye candy certainly does matter. But if you are ultimately more concerned with a broader set of features and better performance, I think you might want to give ForkLift a try.


Summary

A fantastic FTP client that deserves more attention from power-users due to its expanded feature-set.

9
  • matt

    First I think Forklift is more som kind of a File-Manager with FTP features. You should compare it to Pathfinder.

    Second, Forklift is a great software, but it lacks some important features:
    1. No OSX Services. This software is absolutely isolated! No “copy public link” with Dropbox, no “send to Launchbar”, no “new todo item” with Things, no “Toast it”,… For me a Dealbreaker.
    2. No Applescript or Automator. I use Automator to Zip my video files und upload this files to my Backup Server with Transmit. This Script gets triggered monthly by iCal. Just great, but no possible Forklift.

    Besides this two problems (which is actually one problem, I think) the software is great and I would buy it right away…

  • http://www.gusdecool.com GusDeCooL

    What’s USD 30??
    Better use FileZilla then, it’s free!!!

  • Remon Pel

    @matt about the osx services, I think you’re missing the point. This is an FTP-client, not a finder replacement. On the other hand, Transmit DOES offer these services (on local file/folder views). So, half a +1 there :P

    @GusDeCool FileZilla may be free, but it’s unstable, it’s interface is not very intuitive, cluttered with buttons. I prefer a clean mac-like, native app for a few bucks any day.

    @Johnathan Great post! I’ll give forklift a try!

    • matt

      I am not so sure about that. I know forklift since the beginning and the first version didn’t even had the ftp functionality…
      Even the website says: “The most advanced file manager”.

      But, maybe its a better ftp client then a file manager

  • http://www.vaultstudios.co.uk Paul Godney

    Nice article. I will certainly give this a trial run. To be honest all I want from my FTP client is simplicity and ease of use. Extra features are fine but you soon find you have 20+ apps with cross overs all over the place. For me I am really impressed with Cyberduck and has been my FTP client of choice for many months now.

  • Thiago A.

    I’m using YummyFTP. I would use ForkLift only if it could cloud-sync my FTP favorites reliably. ForkLift is still my favorite one, but that feature is a must for me. However, I still use it as a file manager!

    I didn’t have any good experience with Binary Knight’s support either.

  • Dmitry Nikolaev

    I using it for the last year. Absolutely not ideal FTP client, but since I really need only basic FTP facilities, it works for me: 6/10.

  • Stefan

    I use Forklift rarely as a FTP client. However it is my main filemanager and perfectly fits my needs.

  • http://www.xn--applejnger-feb.de Der Applejünger

    I use ForkLift every day.
    It’s the most used Programm on my Macs.
    ForkLift rocks!!!

  • http://www.doctac.com/ doctac

    ✧GREAT DEALS! Forklift for the Mac is on sale for 99¢ (reg. $29.99)
    Today Only :D

  • http://themefortress.com Zhen

    Got the app during the 0.99 sale. Excellent and performs very well except I cannot find a button to transfer files between my Mac and the FTP server. Need to drag and drop every time. Is this the way it works? Other than that, it’s a great app!

  • waveman

    Ok, I was confused for weeks trying to find a proper FTP for my needs which are very simple: I wanted to be fast, intuitive and look great. Everybody has a favourite one – and every company advertise their app as fast so – I’ve done some speed tests myself instead of relying on what people say.

    I downloaded 36Mb httpdocs folder [around 2000 files] from ftp to my mac using different ftp clients, and those are the results:

    ForkLift – 2 min 49 sec – great look and great performance. Very intuitive.
    FileZilla – 4 min 34 sec – Good performance. Solid app but looks horrible.
    Flow – 11 min 10 sec – Not as fast, look ok but gave me couple of errors during the process.
    CyberDuck – 12 min 25 sec – A bit slower, looks ok.
    Transmit – 13 min 10 sec – The slowest one – but beautifully designed.

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