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Transmit FTP client for Mac OS X gets updated to version 4

Vincent Danen reviews the long-awaited update to his favorite FTP client for OS X, Transmit. Are the speed claims for real?

Panic recently released a new major version of Transmit, over five years since version 3.0 was released. As far as I am concerned, Transmit is one of the best FTP clients for OS X; I've been using it for the last five years. Because of that length of time, a paid upgrade to version 4.0 is quite reasonable ($30 for five years of software usage is pretty good value, after all). But is the upgrade worth it? Transmit 3 is a solid FTP client, supporting FTP, FTP with SSL, SFTP, WebDav, and Amazon S3.

One of the features that Transmit 4 (T4 from this point forward) boasts over previous versions is a serious speed increase. It claims that listing 30,000 remote files is 4x faster, that downloading 30,000 small files is 18x faster, deleting 30,000 small files is 2.25x faster, and uploading 15,000 small files is 25x faster. Those are impressive speed gains. Of course, how many people will be uploading or downloading thousands of small files at one time?

Testing the speed gains of T4

Uploading a 14MB zip archive to my Web host using SFTP took the same amount of time as previous versions, so the speed gains are in how Transmit handles and queues FTP commands. Looking in the T4 preferences, there is a Transfers section where you can throttle upload and download speeds and specify the number of transfers done simultaneously (five, by default). With Transmit 3 (T3) you can tell it to queue files to transfer, and the default there is two simultaneous transfers.

So the real test then is to upload a lot of little files to see how well T4 works compared to T3. To test, I created 14014 5-byte files across 14 directories, and uploaded the top-level directory.

The immediate thing I noticed was that by dragging the top-level folder as one item in T3, it was treated as one item for the queue. This meant that there was no parallel uploading taking place; only one connection to the server was initiated. It took T3 42.5 minutes to upload all of the files, and 15.5 minutes to delete them. T4, on the other hand, took 41.5 minutes to upload all 14000 files, and 13 minutes to delete them.

I didn't experience the 25x speed increase whatsoever, and yet the speed for T3 is very close to what was shown on their site. That means that according to their site, the upload in T4 should have taken about 2 minutes (however, this may be due to using SFTP versus regular FTP, or perhaps version 4.0.2 has a bug in it). Unfortunately, I had no real way to test via regular FTP since I refuse to use unsecured FTP for anything other than downloading files.

Best new features

Since the speed increase is woefully underwhelming, at least there are a number of other features that really make T4 a compelling upgrade. First off, the GUI looks much more modern than the aging T3 interface. Some of the GUI refinements that really bring Transmit up to speed with the current OS X interface include subtle things like:

  • T3's pull down for FTP transcripts versus T4's separate window.
  • The ability to use Quick Look on remote files.
  • The integrated transfer window that can be pulled up over the file listing (rather than as a separate queue-style window).
  • The Cover Flow view for files, and the ability to switch panes from local to remote with a simple button click.

There are improvements to the Amazon S3 support, including CloudFront support. If you use SFTP, you can also issue SSH commands, such as expanding an archive or creating an archive of files. Another area of significant improvement is the AppleScript support; T3 had AppleScript support as well, but in T4 it has been overhauled and is apparently much more reliable.

Perhaps the most compelling new feature in T4 is the new Transmit Disk feature. Transmit Disk is very similar to ExpanDrive: remote connections show up in the Finder to be interacted with directly. T4 doesn't need to be running for Transmit Disk to work, so it is an extension to the overall system in much the same way that ExpanDrive is.

Having used ExpanDrive for quite a while, I've found the support in T4 is much better than ExpanDrive. It's more stable, more responsive, and I've yet to reboot the system because the Finder got locked up trying to eject a disk (as has happened with the latest ExpanDrive).

Worth it

Overall, there is enough goodness in T4 to make it worth shelling out the $19USD to upgrade. I also appreciate that this is the first time in five years that Panic has asked to be paid for an upgrade. Many other developers expect users to hand over upgrade fees every year or two, so kudos to Panic for delivering a stellar upgrade and for allowing the use of the previous T3 for five years at a reasonable price.

About Vincent Danen

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

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