FTP vs SFTP: What’s the Difference?

Confused by the difference between FTP vs SFTP? If you want to connect to your website’s server to transfer or manage files, the easiest solution is to use an FTP client. But when you’re configuring your FTP client, you might see that it supports both FTP and SFTP. So, what’s the difference between FTP vs SFTP? And is it better to use one over the other?

For the longer answer, you can keep reading and we’ll take you through everything that you need to know about these two protocols and which one you should use.

What is FTP?

FTP stands for “File Transfer Protocol” It is an internet service that is designed to establish a connection to a specific server or computer. Therefore, users can transfer files (download) or transfer data/files to their computer or the FTP server.

The FTP protocol also includes commands which you can use to execute operations on any remote computer. For example, to change directories, show folder contents, create folders, or delete files. It is built on a client-server architecture. FTP allows you to utilize separate control and data connections between the client and server applications. It helps to solve the issue of different end-host configurations.

What is SFTP?

SFTP (full-form Secure File Transfer Protocol or SSH File Transfer Protocol) is a part of the SSH protocol suite. It provides secure file transfers over SSH to provide access to all the shell accounts on a remote SFTP server.

SSH is a protocol for secure remote access to a machine over untrusted networks. SSH is a replacement for telnet, rsh, and rlogin. SFTP verifies the identity of the client and once a secured connection is established information is exchanged.

ftp vs sftp

FTP vs SFTP: Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of FTP

  • Speed: The most crucial advantage is the speed at which FTP sends and receives the data.
  • Transfer Multiple Directories: With FTP, users can transfer multiple directories and files at the same time.
  • Multitasking: While transferring files, users can download the files in parallel. FTP allows multitasking.
  • Continuous Transfer: If by accident, the connection breaks, the FTP allows the file transfers from the same point. It sends the file bit by bit and keeps a tab on the progress.
  • Scripts: Many FTP clients allow you to script capabilities to build custom scripts to perform specific functions.

Disadvantages of FTP

  • Not all FTP transmissions are secured, but they should be.
  • FTP has its security vendors, which may or may not comply with your policies or payment gateway.
  • No simultaneous transfers.
  • Hackers can spoof servers to send data to unknown ports or unauthorized computers.

Advantages of SFTP

  • The connection is always secured
  • Uninformed TCP/IP ports can be redirected through the encrypted channel in both directions
  • The SFTP protocol runs on a secure channel, so no clear-text passwords or file data are transferred.
  • You can install the software and use it with restricted functionality even without root privileges

Disadvantages of using SFTP

  • The communication is binary and can’t be logged
  • SSH keys are not easy to manage and validate
  • The standards define specific things as optional or recommended. It may lead to compatibility problems between different software developed by different vendors.

ftp vs sftp

5 Key Differences Between FTP vs SFTP

  • FTP is the traditional way to transfer files between computers. It moves data between an FTP client and a web server. SFTP does the same thing but uses a secure channel for data transfer.
  • FTP transfers files on a Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) network while SFTP transfers files via the SSH File Transfer Protocol (SSH or Secure Shell).
  • SFTP encrypts data that moves between the FTP client and the web server. This method prevents hackers from intercepting sensitive data, making it a safer option for ETL.
  • FTP uses two channels to transfer files. SFTP uses a single channel.
  • With SFTP, you authenticate the FTP client with SSH keys or a username and/or password.

FTP vs SFTP: Which should you choose?

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ choice, so you’ll need to consider the file transfer in question. Does the data contain sensitive information? If keeping your data secure is important (and it almost always is), SFTP is probably the right answer. But sometimes, that’s not the main issue to consider.

SFTP is generally slower than FTP due to the security built into the protocol. The data is encrypted, which takes time, but perhaps more importantly the protocol itself functions differently; it’s not “streamed” like FTP.

One limitation of SFTP is that being reliant on SSH requires authentication. This means if you want users to be able to connect anonymously (for example, with a public file server), FTP is the way to go.


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