What is Dropbox FTP? Should You Use It?

Dropbox FTP is an alternative for sharing, storing, and backing up information that accounts for the persistent cybersecurity threats faced by companies today.

When file transfer protocol (FTP) was established in the 1970s, access to the internet was limited to a handful of known entities. It wasn’t designed for secure file transfer.

Today, with the entire world on the internet—good, bad, and ugly—companies need the ability to share information without fear that it will be compromised. Although technology and workarounds exist to increase the security of FTP, they add complexity, latency, and end-user frustration.

If you still rely on FTP, Dropbox can help you simplify, streamline, and secure workflows at the same time.

What is Dropbox FTP?

Dropbox FTP is not a step back to legacy technology. In fact, the company does not support FTP, rather they offer a better tool that replaces your need for FTP servers entirely.

The 6 core responsibilities of an FTP server include:

  • Storage: Users can upload and download files to the FTP server.
  • Synchronization: An FTP server can be configured to automate remote-to-local file synchronization.
  • Access control: Administrators can enforce flexible policies, setting permissions for users to access, edit, share, and delete files on the FTP server.
  • Disaster recovery: An FTP server can be used to back up company information to provide continuity of business during and after a major breach or disaster.
  • Large/multiple file transfers: An FTP server can transfer gigabytes at a time.
  • Security: While FTP is not secure, companies can use SFTP and FTPS to create an encrypted connection.

It’s impressive what an FTP server can do, but there is a catch. Almost none of this function is coming out of the box. Reliable sync, storage, security, etc. via FTP is only accomplished with managed third-party services and a fully-staffed, attentive IT department.

Dropbox, on the other hand, “just works”.

You are, of course, going to need to invest administrative resources to manage accounts, users, and other client-side cloud security responsibilities—but it’s nothing like the overhead and frustration associated with using SFTP or FTPS at scale.

Dropbox wasn’t designed to replace FTP, but it does a better job of handling the 6 core FTP responsibilities, and it’s got additional functionality to boot.

Here’s the main features of the Dropbox FTP solution that can help companies move past a legacy technology and shed unnecessary IT overhead:

  • Storage: Users can upload and download files from any device (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS) to Dropbox.
  • Synchronization: Using advanced technologies like Delta sync, LAN sync, and streaming sync, Dropbox provides extremely fast synchronization, and picks right up where it left off should the internet connection drop.
  • Access control: Both users and administrators can control file-sharing in the intuitive interface, setting permissions for colleagues to access, edit, share, and delete files on Dropbox.
  • Disaster recovery: Dropbox can be used to routinely back up company information, providing continuity of business during and after a major breach or disaster.
  • Large/multiple file transfers: Transferring multiple files is extremely easy with Dropbox Transfer, and you can send files of up to 250 GB.
  • Security: All traffic and at rest data is encrypted on Dropbox, and there are many trusted third-party integrations that provide for client-side Dropbox encryption.
  • FTP syncing: You can connect your FTP server and Dropbox account, using enterprise content migration tools and built-in workflow tools to streamline the process of integrating Dropbox with your FTP-dependant processes.
  • DBX Platform: Use APIs to build custom workflows that quickly integrate legacy FTP applications into Dropbox.

Why is Dropbox FTP better than a normal FTP server?

Every single aspect of storing, syncing, and sharing files is easier and more secure on Dropbox than with an FTP server. Here’s why.

Security is baked in

The way Dropbox works is by creating a special folder on your device that is always synced with the company servers. Any files you move or change in this folder are always updated to reflect their most current iteration, no matter which device you access from.

For end-users, there’s no complicated interface to understand. Using Dropbox for secure storage is no different than organizing files in Windows or Finder. It’s the same familiar drag-and-drop functionality and rules everyone understands.

This makes file secure file storage a breeze because data at rest is always encrypted in Dropbox, as is data moving between the company’s servers and apps. There’s no need to manage SSL certificates, or set SSH and VPN tunnels.

Companies can enable two-step verification and integrate Dropbox with their SSO provider to streamline secure access. Once users are working within the platform, all transferred and stored data will benefit from Dropbox’s backend, always-on encryption.

Easier collaboration with better oversight

With Dropbox, there are no complex FTP permissions to manage access control. And on an FTP server, these permissions only become more convoluted as companies use FTPS and SFTP and firewalls to secure file transfers.

Instead, both individual users and administrators benefit from Dropbox’s intuitive design, gaining a level of visibility and control that would be impossible on an FTP server.

Users share links to Dropbox files or folders, rather than sending email attachments. Links can be password protected, and users can add additional security measures like document expiry and disable download.

These security features are easy to enable, allowing for employees to accommodate the range of individuals with whom they share resources on a daily basis: customers, clients, colleagues, etc.

Additionally, teams can collaborate joining a shared workspace in Dropbox. Here, everything they need is gathered in one place that is always synced with the latest developments.

For teams to accomplish a similar cloud workspace with an FTP server, they would require the creation and maintenance of hundreds of individual logins. And how well would the FTP-based workspace perform as remote users connect from various unknown networks?

Administrators can visualize file-sharing at the company level using the Dropbox insights dashboard. They can generate activity reports that help them recognize threats, and respond quickly with remediation capabilities, such as limiting user access on specific devices, terminating active browser sessions, and remotely wiping a lost or stolen device.

Faster transfer, more reliable synch

If the increased security, control, and visibility of Dropbox FTP vs traditional FTP isn’t enough to sway your decision, what about speed and reliability?

An FTP server needs continuous connection in order to facilitate transfer and sync. Dropbox automatically resumes interrupted transfers, delivering a seamless experience for today’s on-the-go users. They can work offline as needed, knowing that their work will auto-resume synch.

In addition to reliable access, Dropbox also uses advanced technology that increases the speed of sync across the platform:

  • Incremental backup and Delta sync: Only modified portions of files are backed up. If you change a sentence in a document, for example, only that file portion is saved to backup.
  • Local Area Network (LAN) sync: Dropbox will sync content with your LAN if possible, before downloading it from servers.
  • Streaming sync: For large files, Dropbox “overlaps” upload/download phases, allowing the file to be downloaded before it has completed uploading to Dropbox.

These capabilities kick in as needed to deliver lighting quick speed by comparison to a traditional FPS server.

Dropbox continues to innovate and take risks, delivering far more than new features to people who use their service. For example, Dropbox recently rewrote the heart of their sync engine from scratch.

It was a bold and challenging project, but it will enable the company to continue to provide high-quality sync as companies push the limits of what Dropbox can do.

When should you use Dropbox FTP?

As soon as you can. And if not Dropbox FTP, use Google Drive, OneDrive, or some other solution that wasn’t invented during the Nixon administration.

Browsers from Google and Mozilla have dropped FTP support, and though it works well with a ton of other technologies, newer products aren’t going to be designed to accommodate FTP.

As familiar as it may be, looking forward there’s not a good reason to use continuing building FTP into your long-term plans. The lack of security, the complexity, and the trouble scaling all make Dropbox a much more compelling choice.

With Dropbox FTP sync, you can streamline the transition. Oversee the entire move and automate the process using enterprise migration software, out-of-the-box workflows, or designing your custom workflows on the DBX Platform.

The truth is that transitioning away from FTP to Dropbox will simplify and harden your IT infrastructure, making the process of secure file sharing easier for administrators and users alike.

Who gets value from Dropbox FTP?

More than half the Fortune 500 use Dropbox to keep their content secure and accessible. Many of these organizations had to transition from FTP resources that had been in service for decades.

Dropbox FTP makes it possible to move massive directories, repositories, and data stores safely into the cloud. And, once your resources are on Dropbox, they are better protected and easier to access.

Whether it is a doctor sharing information with a patient, or a media company coordinating production, Dropbox provides everything an organization needs to ensure that file transfers are fast, safe, and legal.

Dropbox integrates with products from many of the best cloud security companies, like Forcepoint, Symantec, and Trend Micro.

These integrations increase security and visibility across your entire IT environment. Using Dropbox with Microsoft Cloud App Security, for example, allows administrators to sanction other applications and enforce granular data loss prevention (DLP) policies.

Because Dropbox is so intuitive and extensible, organizations can incorporate the platform with minimal disruption to their workflows.

Which plans have Dropbox FTP?

Companies of any size can transition from FTP to Dropbox using the appropriate plan. There are 3 Business plans available for Dropbox:

  • Professional: for individuals, $16.58/month
  • Standard: for smaller teams, $12.50 user/month
  • Advanced: for larger teams, $20.00 user/month

The major differences between the Business plans are the collaborative features that come with Standard, and the additional administrative capabilities that come with Advanced.

Both Standard and Advanced can be configured to meet HIPAA regulations.

Most of the Dropbox FTP features come with all Business plans, and include:

  • 180-day file recovery and version history
  • 180-day history for Dropbox Rewind
  • Anytime access from any device
  • Best-in-class synching technology
  • Cloud storage (3 TB, 5 TB, or unlimited, depending on plan)
  • Data encryption at-rest and in-transit
  • Dropbox Transfer (2 GB or 100 GB, depending on plan)
  • File locking
  • Secure sharing

Additional Dropbox FTP features that only come with Advanced plans include:

  • Audit logs with file event tracking
  • Device approvals
  • Viewer history (also comes with Professional)

One thing to note is that, even with Advanced, Dropbox transfer is limited to 100 GB. In order to send large files up to 250 GB, you need to purchase the Creative Tools Add-On.

For consumers, Dropbox Plus and Family plans can be great options for file storage and sharing. They’re probably not replacing an FTP server, but users get the same intuitive interface, security, and best-in-class sync software that comes with Business plans.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira