aNewDomain.net — When it’s fast enough and has WebDAV, image baskets, movie thumbnails, file synchronization and PGP encryption, FTP server tech is exciting.
CrushFTP 6 is the latest version of Ben Spink’s FTP server product. It has all of the above — plus it compresses, transfers on the fly and it will run on Apple OS X, most flavors of Linux and on Microsoft Windows.
My test version of CrushFTP 6 was the Enterprise version. That includes CrushSync for synchronization and CrushTunnel for acceleration of file transfers. I took a look.
This is a feature-packed product, no question. CrushFTP 6 management is fully web-based and doesn’t require temporary links and expirations to share files and folders between users. It supports multiple administrators working on the same server.
It has indexed search, reverse proxy and a VFS (Virtual File Server) backend that supports proxying to servers running FTP, SFTP, FTPs, HTTP, HTTPs and WebDAV. Mini URLs allow you to create a URL pointing to a file or folder without including user name or password and send this to a user.
Then, when the user loads the URL into the browser, the link will log him in automatically and display the folder or file it points to.
FTP or SFTP connections will transparently connect to backend servers. The system even allows you to have CrushFTP act as a backend proxy to a separate server. And if you want to use the Amazon S3 service for backend storage, that’s possible, too.
User management is a granular activity. Group users and have them inherit group settings and still let each user have his or her own customized settings. A dazzling array of them. It’s possible to individualize some of these settings on a virtual folder level.
Custom forms with particular usage terms and conditions are displayable at any point. Per user and folder, of course.
CrushFTP 6 has a plug-in architecture and comes with a number of useful plug-ins by default. CrushTask allows for post-processing on uploads and other actions. Take files and move them to a new location, rename them, copy them, delete them, SFTP them to another server, generate an XML file with their info, execute a third party program with the files, pull attachments out of emails from an IMAP server, zip and unzip them, PGP encrypt and decrypt them and more.
Or task items link together into chains of actions. This is a powerful combination of features here.
The Enterprise license allowed me to schedule this plug-in to run on its own so I could let it perform cleanup tasks.
HomeDirectory allows you to make a user and automatically create her home folder and permissions. CrushLDAPGroup lets you use ActiveDirectory, or LDAP to validate user authentication. There are plenty more of these plug-ins included with any CrushFTP 6 license. However, I concentrated my review on the setup of CrushFTP 6 and its synchronization.
Setting up CrushFTP 6 is dead easy, mainly because most of the settings are browser-based. You start by setting your server preferences and then add users. A basic setup takes about five minutes, but if you want to do it right from the start it can take half a day to go through all the possible preferences and configuration features. FTP users can have images automatically enlarge when hovering over thumbnails, and movies and MP3 audio play in the browser.
In order to restrict access to specific directories on the server, you’ll set up virtual folders and user permissions. User permissions reminded me more of Access Control Lists (ACL) then basic permission functionality. Virtual folders are extremely important for the synchronization feature. If you set those up the wrong way, you’ll end up with files all over the place. I found synchronization in particular very appealing and powerful. It allows you to offer “customers” DropBox capabilities with versioning and on automatic pilot. The revisions functionality lets you use CrushFTP 6 as a versioning system, or a “Time Machine Light”.
Here’s how to set it up:
First navigate to User Manager and select the user for whom you want to enable sync. In the VFS list, select a folder to sync. By the way, if a dialog window sits in your way, just drag them away. Nice touch. Not all web interfaces support this.
In the dialog, you’ll need to tell the server where to store the revisions. The number of revisions can be anything you want, but a number lower than three makes little sense, while a number greater than five can quickly become unwieldy. You should only turn on the Upload only check box if you want to sync in one direction only.
The next step is to download the Sync client by pointing your browser to a JNLP file on the server machine. On Mountain Lion this was a serious pain in the back, as Apple — in its infinite wisdom — has disabled Java, including WebStart. The Java Preferences file on your Mountain Lion system is PUS (Pretty Useless Software) in that you cannot seem to start the WebStart capability here anymore. I tried to solve this by manually setting the client’s XML preferences file.
That didn’t work. Ben Spink answered my support request within minutes and I had the JNLP file downloaded using a temporary fix using the Terminal and a force-turn-on of WebStart. The client is a rather ugly Java app, but although it would be nice to have a client that doesn’t rely on Java and has a better UI design, this one does the job.
And that’s it, basically. Synchronization is automatic, so whenever local files are updated, the file on the server is updated too.
If you need a robust, stable FTP server with lots of speed and management features, additional functionality out-of-the-box and expandability, then CrushFTP 6 gets you everything you want. An Enterprise license will also get you instant support.
Price: $40.00 (Home) – $5000.00 (Enterprise – including custom module design)
Pros: Fast, stable, much extra functionality included, automatic tasks
Cons: Sync client depends on Java, CrushSync client app design
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Erik Vlietinck.
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