The FTP protocol is old, stemming from the days of Telnet, before security came to be the relevant issue it is today. One of the protocol's biggest flaws, in today's security-conscious world, is the transmission of passwords "in the clear", unencrypted, easily visible to network sniffers. There are several ways of attempting to deal with this flaw.
ProFTPD allows for the definition of "virtual" users: users who do not have accounts on the host machine, whose account information is defined in other sources. The passwords for these users are then specific only to FTP access, and thus do not expose shell access (ssh, hopefully) to unauthorized users. These alternative account information sources include SQL tables (via mod_sql), LDAP servers (via mod_ldap), CDB files (via mod_auth_cdb), and other system files (via the AuthUserFile and AuthGroupFile configuration directives). The proftpd server can be configured to use multiple account information sources simultaneously as well, allowing for flexible support of a range of environments.
This document focuses on the use of the AuthUserFile and AuthGroupFile directives. Several questions often arise about the use of these directives. In general, the answers to those questions apply to other authentication/account sources, too.
Any configured AuthUserFile is used instead of /etc/passwd, not in addition to it; similarly for AuthGroupFile and /etc/group. The format of an AuthUserFile is the same as /etc/passwd (man passwd(5)), and the format of an AuthGroupFile is the same as /etc/group (man group(5)). There is an ftpasswd script available that can be used to create and update these files.
It is important to note here that not all flavors of Unix use these formats; one notable exception is FreeBSD. With FreeBSD, user account information is stored in binary database files as opposed to ASCII files. The C library on this platform also lacks the functions necessary for making the AuthUserFile and AuthGroupFile directives work properly. In this case, proftpd uses an internal implementation of the missing functions to read AuthUserFiles and AuthGroupFiles. This internal implementation requires that AuthUserFiles have the traditional passwd(5) format:
and that AuthGroupFiles have this format:
The ftpasswd script mentioned creates files in these required formats.