By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
If you're searching for information on the Internet, you use a search engine such as AltaVista. But if you want to find particular files, there's a much better way.
You use an ftp search engine. There's a good one athttp://www.halcyon.com/aga/fastftp.html.
Unlike Web search engines, an ftp search engine produces a list of files in your Web browser's window instead of a list of Web pages. The one hosted at Halcyon displays clickable links to the files it found, along with links to parent directories on the ftp servers where the files are stored. This makes it easy to back up one level in the server's file system. Also shown as hypertext links are the ftp servers themselves, so you can quickly access the main listings of available files.
The Halcyon site is little more than a quick "front end" to a search system in Norway. It's called FTP Search and was created by Tor Egge. If you log onto the Halcyon page and view the HTML source, you'll see how you can create a locally stored page on your own computer that will feed into the search engine in Norway. (You could actually just use the HTML code as-is, but be a little creative. Narrowing HTML code verbatim won't teach you anything about how the Hypertext Markup Language really works.)
If you're new to the near-total lack of policing on the Internet, you might be surprised or even shocked to discover that the ftp search engine will uncover hordes of pirated files in addition to legitimate ones. I'm pointing this out as a warning, not as encouragement, because you have no way of knowing if the site that is storing a particular file got it on the sly.
You'll also find that the thousands of file servers on the Internet often store old versions of programs along with newer versions. This is a big help if you've upgraded a freeware or shareware program only to find that the newer version is buggy. You can usually find the older version quickly.
Sometimes, files you try to download might not come across because some servers require authenticated loginsóconnections made by users who have accounts on the servers. At other times, servers that allow anonymous connections (as most do) will seem to balk, also, probably because they are busy. (All ftp servers have a limit on how many computers can be connected at one time.)
Unfortunately, Microsoft's Web browsers are unable to tell you what's actually going on when this happens. You'll see a message saying "The server returned extended information," and that's all. (A Microsoft engineer once told me that message is the browser's way of saying, "Yo! I dunno what's wrong!")