Using Dreamweaver file management tools on Mac OS X with an SSH-accessible web server

Macromedia Dreamweaver has some excellent built-in file and site management tools. Unfortunately, if you are trying to synchronize with a production web server that is accessible only via SSH, then you are unable to take advantage of these tools directly. The only way to upload and download things by default is the good old scp command-line tool, executed from the Terminal. The good news is, there are some tools and tricks to get things done

For Mac OS X users or anyone working on an Unix development server, there is the possibility of using the rsync command line utility in conjunction with SSH. I’m working on some detailed documentation for setting up a development web server that will include this information, which I’ll publish here later. The basic premise here is, if you have a local development server or development directory that you can access using any of the Dreamweaver file protocols such as Local/Network, FTP, WebDav, or RDS, then you can sync your working directory with that server and then issue rsync commands to synchronize your local development directory with your production web server.

But for the rest of you unwashed masses that are not Unix gods and don’t care to touch a command line instruction with a ten-foot pole, there are a couple of other goodies out there that take advantage of the built-in OpenSSH capabilities of Mac OS X. My weapons of choice in this arena are MacSFTP and Interarchy 6.0.

For basic functionality, MacSFTP is a great utility that has gotten me through months and months of work. The application is quite simple and provides a clean, uncluttered, and highly functional user interface that helps you get the job done. It has always been stable and reliable, and is a good tool to have in your web arsenal. The developer has always been highly receptive to suggestions and fixes bugs promptly. To use it best, I recommend first creating a new bookmark for your site, open the application and choose Bookmarks > New Bookmark. Fill in the fields as appropriate, being sure to specify the path to your production servers’ site files directory in the appropriate field. I created a symbolic link in my home directory on my production server to the website’s directory. Once set up, it connects in a snap and I’m now able to drag and drop files where they need to go.

Now this doesn’t solve the problem of being able to utilize Dreamweaver’s synchronization tools. But at least you can get your files from point A to point B without using scp from the Terminal. I do know that the developer intends to include synchronization functionality in a future release.

To make some actual use of Dreamweaver’s cool file management utilties, a good option to investigate is Interarchy 6.0. Interarchy has both traditional FTP and the more secure SFTP protocols built in. Plus, it has what seems to be fairly good synchronization tools and an interesting feature called SFTP Disk.

Interarchy 6.0 has been released just recently, so I haven’t had a lot of time to test it out. Interarchy 5 claimed SFTP capabilities and the whole FTP Disk feature, but that version seemed to be just riddled with bugs and problems, and I found it completely useless. Version 6.0 on the other hand seems to have solved most of those problems and I am finding my initial tests with Dreamweaver MX to be quite successful for file management and synchronization.

To use Interarchy 6.0 best, I recommend first building an SFTP Disk. This may take some time, as what it really does is create a cache of your website on your local drive. Even though this takes a while and sucks up space on your hard drive, there is a payoff later on. Still, if you’re running low on hard drive space, you may want to think twice before doing this, or perhaps you might want to clean up some of the larger unused files on your drive to make room.

Once you have built an SFTP disk, you can now tell Dreamweaver that this “volume” is your remote site. In your Site Definition panel, set your Remote Info (and Testing Server, if applicable) to the SFTP disk that now appears on your Desktop. (Note, this is not a real mounted volume, and will not appear in Finder windows at the root level. Just know that your SFTP Disk is on the desktop and scamper away happy knowing that it works…)

Now that your remote site has been defined, you can use all of the Dreamweaver file management tools that you know and love, and Interarchy 6.0 will make sure that those changes get placed on the development web server for you. It seems that Interarchy 6.0’s SFTP Disk will detect any changes on your local machine or on the production web server and perform a synchronization at that juncture. The SFTP Disk will remain mounted if you go offline, and it will perform synchronizations the next time you’re back on. Yes, they did build in a contingency plan for cases in which two people might have worked on the same file. However, if you’re using Dreamweaver’s File Check In/Check Out feature, then this should never be a problem anyway.

So far I’ve been using my Interarchy 6.0 SFTP Disk for a few hours, and it seems to have solved my functionality problems between Dreamweaver and my production server. Very cool.