The following chart should help admins remember how each FTP mode works:
Active FTP :
command : client >1024 -> server 21
data : client >1024 <- server 20 Passive (PASV) FTP : command : client >1024 -> server 21
data : client >1024 -> server >1024
A quick summary of the pros and cons of active vs. passive FTP is also in order:
Active FTP is beneficial to the FTP server admin, but detrimental to the client side admin. The FTP server attempts to make connections to random high ports on the client, which would almost certainly be blocked by a firewall on the client side. Passive FTP is beneficial to the client, but detrimental to the FTP server admin. The client will make both connections to the server, but one of them will be to a random high port, which would almost certainly be blocked by a firewall on the server side.
Luckily, there is somewhat of a compromise. Since admins running FTP servers will need to make their servers accessible to the greatest number of clients, they will almost certainly need to support passive FTP. The exposure of high level ports on the server can be minimized by specifying a limited port range for the FTP server to use. Thus, everything except for this range of ports can be firewalled on the server side. While this doesn’t eliminate all risk to the server, it decreases it tremendously.