Using our FTP service

How do I browse the Bureau's public FTP service?


You can browse (and download files from) the Bureau's public (anonymous) FTP service with an old web browser* e.g. Internet Explorer 6. However, the most reliable way to connect to the FTP server is with an FTP Client: i.e. FileZilla, WinSCP &c. The Bureau doesn't prescribe any specific FTP client

*Why can't I browse the Bureau's FTP service with a modern web browser?

Short answer: The organisations (Google, Microsoft, Firefox etc.) that develop web browser software have removed support for FTP from their web browsers.

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) was developed in 1971 twenty years before the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP - essentially the language of the World Wide Web). FTP was originally used to transfer files between computers on, mostly closed networks. So the fact that user names passwords and data are not encrypted (secured) wasn't an issue then. When HTTP was developed in 1989-91 the internet took off. HTTP and FTP played different roles in the development of the web. HTTP was the standard for web browsers which displayed the formatted pages that were marked up using the lightweight HTTP. FTP on the other hand continued to be used to move files from server to server, e.g. web developers used FTP to put a file on a web server so that it can be viewed in a browser.

In the early days of the internet browser developers thought it would be a good idea to include support for FTP in their web browser so that it was possible to seamlessly transition between the two.

Fast forward to 2019/2020: there is a lot more emphasis on internet security and there have been secure versions of HTTP and FTP (HTTPS and SFTP) around for more than 20 years. Originally they were used when it was necessary to keep transaction details secret (online shopping, banking etc.). Today, browser developers are pushing to make the vast majority of (primarily government and business) websites secure. So most of the browser developers have dropped native support for FTP as of the following versions of the top four web browsers available (in no particular order):

  • MS Edge ~V88 (Chromium based)
  • Chrome ~V82
  • Safari - unknown
  • Firefox ~V77

NB Browsers can be configured to hand off connections to FTP servers to other applications (FileZilla, WinSCP &c.). Check the help/documentation of preferred browser to see how to do this.