Introducing FileCatalyst TransferAgent

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If you have been keeping up with FileCatalyst, you may have already heard of our latest product, FileCatalyst TransferAgent. Officially released yesterday, TransferAgent introduces a new way to harness the power of FileCatalyst. That last phrase should be read with a booming echoing voice, by the way. Our formal introduction of the product was during our webinar on September 25th (Watch), with today’s post serving as a bit of a recap.

Unlimi-Tech in the Browser

The entire company grew from the idea of enabling file transfer in the browser, with our first product being an FTP Java applet released in 2000. Although the product line has grown and diversified since then, the browser has always been an important target for our products. In 2007 we added our line of UDP-accelerated applets to the FileCatalyst lineup, which meant unprecedented file transfer performance directly in the browser.

The need for an applet alternative

Along the way, there have been a few hiccups: In 2004, Microsoft’s adoption of Sun Java meant that browsers would require a Java plugin. Not a major setback, and most consumers were quickly accustomed to not only Java plugins but other plugins that were required to use various sites and applications on the web. In 2010 there was a bit of a shakeup on the Apple front, with the MRJ (Mac OS Runtime for Java) being dropped; this simply meant that users would need to run the Sun Java (later the same year acquired by Oracle) plugin. The transition caused a few minor issues that were quickly resolved but which were an annoyance. Then In 2013, a security vulnerability with the Java Plugin for Safari prompted Apple to block the plug-in entirely. Any customers accustomed to using the plugin without issue (for example, to launch FileCatalyst transfer applets) were dead in the water.

Although we fully intend to continue supporting our easy-to-use Java Applets, it became clear that an alternative was needed for the web. Java itself was not the problem, but the Java browser plug-in had become problematic one too many times to simply ignore.

FileCatalyst TransferAgent: Our Goals

The immediate goals for the plugin included:

  1. No dependency on the Java browser Plugin for both Windows and Mac OSX environments
  2. Lightweight installer that installs only when needed (inline installation)
  3. Improved security, with PGP encryption for connection credentials
  4. Support for Uploads and Downloads with a transfer queue
  5. Agnostic to server-side web technologies (JSP, PHP, ASP, Python, etc.); in other words, uses straight HTML5. A FileCatalyst Server is of course still required.
  6. Built-in email notifications

The main goal and the “raison d’etre” for the new product is of course the first item: no dependency on the Java plugin. Let’s talk a little more about that, and expand on what we discussed during the webinar.

No Java Plugin Required

With the inevitability of the Java plugin no longer being supported in Safari for Mac OSX (though currently support still exists), we needed to solve the problem of managing file transfers and enabling acceleration from a web interface. And we needed it to closely resemble what we already offer.

Here’s the scenario with our line of applets:

  • User lands on a web page that is to be used for file transfer
  • The launching script advises the user of the need for the Java plugin if it is not already installed
  • The applet is transparently downloaded
  • The applet launches and presents the user with a file transfer interface

This experience has been (and will continue to be) one of FileCatalyst’s great strengths. It is slightly modified for the TransferAgent approach:

  • User lands on a web page that is to be used for file transfer
  • The launching script advises the user of the need to download the TransferAgent if it is not already installed
  • The user downloads and runs an installer, which launches the application
  • The user confirms the installation, which presents them with a file transfer interface

On first run, there are a few more mouse clicks than first run with the applets. But on subsequent visits to a FileCatalyst TransferAgent-enabled page, the interface will present itself without user intervention.

How it Works

Rather than being a Java applet, it is a full desktop application. It is installed as needed to the client machine, where it thereafter appears as a tray icon. This application is able to exchange information through the browser using TCP/IP. When the user interacts with the interface, they are actually sending commands and requests to the TransferAgent application, which takes over and does the actual business of the file transfer. While the file transfer occurs, the TransferAgent is also able to share status updates, which the browser is able to show to the user.

A side benefit is that at the API level, the user interface that we supply actually becomes very secondary. You can use our UI if it suits your needs, or with a bit of development time you can replace it with something completely custom. As long as the conventions of the REST calls are followed, any FileCatalyst customer can build their own “window” into the TransferAgent application. We anticipate most users will use the full-featured interface we have provided, but the option is there. As one of the developers on the project, I’m definitely eager to see if anybody runs with it.

What’s Next?

Although the first release is out the door, there is a lot of work to do in order to continue providing the best possible web-based file transfer acceleration to our clients. Here are a few highlights:

  1. Integration into FileCatalyst Webmail and FileCatalyst Workflow
  2. A two-way mode with both local and remote panes (much like FileCatalyst Express)
  3. A public JavaScript API to act as an abstraction layer over the REST API
  4. Server-to-Server transfers
  5. Connectivity to FileCatalyst Central

Getting Started

Existing FileCatalyst applet customers qualify for immediate free upgrade to the TransferAgent. New customers or those with a different license should contact our sales team: contact FileCatalyst