How to get things done on your web host without shell access

From assela Pathirana
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My old web host did not allow me to login to the hosting computer. What I could do was only to upload and manage files via a FTP client. If you have a bunch of HTML pages that needs updating once in a while, this is perfrectly ok. But, for a bit of a lively site (I mean technically -- remember? This is a hobby for me.) you need to do a bit more advanced things time to time. Though not easy, it is not impossible to do most of the things with only FTP available to transfer files back and fourth.

FTP Program


If you operate from (i.e. your home computer from where you 'upload' to the hosting compnay) a windows machine, use FileZilla. It is a good graphical FTP client. For Linux, use gFTP, which may already be present in your computer, without you instaling it.

I often use command-line tools to do various computer tasks. But, here I don't recommend command-line FTP client over the above two programs -- the protocol is silly enough as it is (in present day's terms) without complicating it further by using it by typing each command!!

Only advice here is, use security features like TLS encryption (both FileZilla and gFTP supports these) if the hosting company supports them. Sending all the passwrods and other information in unencrypted clear-text as FTP does is inviting for trouble these days.

Regular uploading

Suppose you do your web development work in a computer at home or office. (I'll assume a Linux computer here.) Then it is possible to provide a painless system for automatically uploading whatever changed files on the source machine (you office) to destination machine (web-host).

You can use Christoph Lechleitner's excellent ftpsync perl-script. Whenever it is invoked with correct arguments, it will automatically compare all the files, and uploads the newly modified ones.

If the source machine is a Linux (or UNIX) computer. It is possible to write a cron job to do this daily or so. In fact some of the near-real-time rainfall maps (e.g. CPC, TRMM) displyed on this site are generated in a computer at my home and are automatically updated on the web server.

Installing Software

In order to run this site, I had to modify Mediawiki a little bit and then install it on the web host. Now, this tasks is quite straght forward if you have Shell acess to the web host - but I didn't. Even my host did not have popular Unix commands like tar or gzip installed!

  1. It is possible to transfer a whole directory-tree from source to web server, as explained in the above section. However, this is clumsy and takes ages for packages with large number of files (wikipedia has about thousands) if using FTP for the transfer. Since I d

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22:21, 9 September 2006 (JST)