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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.