FTP vs SFTP: understanding these two meanings

Olga Weis

FTP or SFTP or maybe FTPS, HTTPS … As you see, there are so many options for a file transfer that it can be sometimes very difficult to answer the question “What is the best way to secure your data when transferring?”

This article is meant to help you to hunt down a question of the differences between FTP and SFTP, and which one is the best choice for protecting the transfer of your files. Despite sounding quite similar, there is a significant difference between FTP and SFTP. However, both these protocols are widely used for data exchange.


What is the difference between FTP and SFTP?

Before talking about the difference between these two protocols, let’s talk about these two meanings separately.

What is FTP? Let's try to answer this question first

FTP is a popular file transfer method that is being used everywhere and has not changed so much since its invention in 1971. However, at that time, it was not generally assumed that the Internet activity would actively be targeted at hacking, so FTP was not created with the features to deal with such a cyber security threat that we now see in the news every day.

How does FTP work

The File Transfer Protocol or also known as FTP is designed to organize the exchange of data between your PC and the server. This process is similar to the one when the user copies information from one folder to another. Using FTP, you get access to the disk space that is allocated by the host.

FTP exchanges data using two separate channels, known as the command channel and the data transfer channel. When using FTP, both channels are unencrypted, as a result, any data transferred through these channels are vulnerable to interception and reading.

Functions that are available from FTP are the following:

  • downloading files from an FTP server;
  • uploading sites to the hosting;
  • placing files on FTP servers of different types.

In order to be able to use FTP on your PC, there are special programs - FTP clients. In fact, they differ only in the graphical environment and the ease of use. As for the functions, they are the same. FTP client can be installed on any PC with any OS no matter whether it is Windows, Unix, MAC, etc.

In other words, one can say that an FTP server is a good replacement for portable storage media. If you need to transfer data to another computer, you cannot only use the flash drive, but also make it completely different: place the information on the FTP server, and then just download it from another PC. This method is more convenient and beneficial for users of the Network.

Now, let’s answer the question “What is SFTP”?

SFTP is the abbreviation of Secure File Transfer Protocol and is a completely different protocol that is based on the SSH (Secure Shell) network protocol and has nothing to do with FTP. Due to the fact that this protocol has a built-in encryption system, it is preferable to use SFTP vs FTP. Nevertheless, SFTP has not been adopted as the official standard of the Network yet.

How does SFTP work

The application layer protocol SFTP was developed as an extension to SSH-2. It is used to copy and execute operations with files on top of a secure connection. In most cases, it uses port 22. SFTP assumes that it is running over the established secure channel, that the server has already authenticated the client and that the client ID is available to the protocol.

SFTP provides two ways to authenticate connections. Like FTP, you can simply use the user ID and password. However, with SFTP, these credentials are encrypted, which gives it a great security advantage over FTP.

Another authentication method that you can use with SFTP is SSH keys. This assumes, first of all, the generation of the private key SSH and the public key. Then, you send your public key SSH to your trading partner, and they upload it to their server and after that connect to your account. When connecting to your SFTP server, their client software will transfer their public key to the server for authentication. If the public key matches your private key, along with any user or transmitted password, the verification will be passed. The user authentication ID can be used with any combination of a key and/or password authentication.

Features and functions of the SFTP protocol:

  • resuming function, interruption of transfer and deleting the file;
  • it is used as a subsystem of version 2 of the SSH protocol implementation;
  • an advantage over FTP (which does not have a downloading conditions) - the downloaded files can be combined by their main attributes, such as timestamps.

We hope that this FTP SFTP comparison article was rather informative for you, and as you see, unlike FTP, SFTP uses only one connection and encrypts both authentication information and transmitted data files and is considered to be more secure.

Commander One is a perfect FTP/SFTP client for Mac

To choose straightforward, simple and powerful FTP/SFTP client is would meet all your requirements isn’t an easy task. We recommend you to take a closer look at Commander One. The app is developed by Eltima Software as an excellent file manager with built-in FTP/SFTP client. Commander One is a great combination of all the features one would need for a fast and secure data transfer. Having a minimalistic dual-panel interface you would definitely love the way you can work with all the files and folders and how easily they can be moved around without opening additional tabs.

FTP client for Mac

In addition, the app’s PRO Pack allows you to seamlessly mount the most popular cloud storages like Dropbox, Amazon S3, Google Drive and OneDrive on your Mac computer as well as manage and access all the information stored there as if they were on your local hard disk. Besides that, you can flawlessly connect your Android smartphone, and other devices that support MTP connection and manage all the data there without any effort. Give Commander One a chance and check how it works.

Commander One

  • Requirements: macOS 10.12+. 37.59MB free space
  • Version 3.1(3457). (16 May, 2021). Release notes
  • Rank 4.5 based on 90+ users, Reviews(15)
  • Category: Utilities
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