Google reenables FTP support in Chrome due to pandemic

After disabling FTP support in Google Chrome 81, Google has decided to reenable it again to prevent outages and difficulties in accessing information during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since 2014, Google has wanted to remove support for the FTP protocol in Chrome as it was only used by only by “.1-.2%” of the browser’s users, with a slightly higher percentage among Linux users.

Fast forward to the end of 2018, with FTP support WONTFIXed in Chrome for iOS, Google began their plan of slowly deprecating FTP support in the desktop browser as well.

This new plan would start with continuing to display FTP directory listings, but would no longer render files in the browser and download them instead.

“Rather than rendering resources requested via FTP, we should download them,” stated the conversation. “We should continue to render directory listings, but we will not render anything else. That is, will render the same, exciting directory listing you see today; while will result in a `test2` file being downloaded.

FTP is a non-securable, legacy protocol. We’ve WONTFIXed FTP support on iOS, but its usage in Blink-based Chrome is high-enough that it seems difficult to remove all at once. This seems like a reasonable way of reducing its viability as an attack surface as a stepping stone to more complete removal.”

Starting with Chrome 80, Google began deprecating FTP support by adding the “chrome://flags/#enable-ftp” flag that controls whether FTP support is enabled or not. 

FTP support was enabled by default in this version, but Google conducted a test where it is turned off for 1% of its user base to see if there are any complaints or issues accessing content.

The plan was finally to disable FTP support by default in Chrome 81 but still allow it to be enabled again using the #enable-ftp flag.

FTP enabled again due to Coronavirus crisis

On April 9th, Google software engineer Asanka Herath posted to the “Remove built-in support for FTP from Chrome” Chromium bug topic that “In light of the current crisis, we are going to “undeprecate” FTP on the Chrome stable channel. I.e. FTP will start working again.”

Post to Google bug report

Enabling FTP support by default is being done to make sure there no problem with people accessing content on FTP sites during the pandemic.

For example, many government agencies still utilize FTP sites, including the National Institutes of Health.

Herath stated that the deprecation of FTP in Chrome would recommence after “people are in a better position to deal with potential outages and migrations.”


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