Transferring files is necessary when developing a website. Maybe you want to install a content management system (CMS), or perhaps you want to add images or videos to your website. Regardless, you’ll have to upload the files from your computer to your website’s server.
In addition to the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), though, there’s the Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). While you can use either of these protocols to transfer files between your computer and your website’s server, they aren’t the same.
What Is FTP?
FTP is a communication protocol that governs the transfer of files. It’s been around for over a half-century, during which it’s become recognized as the universal technology for transferring files between computers and website servers. You can use downloaded software known as an FTP client on your computer. You can then launch the FTP client to create a direct connection to your website’s server.
FTP uses a client-server architecture. Your computer is the client. Your website’s server, of course, is the server. A client-server architecture means that you can upload and download files simultaneously.
FTP also uses a data connection and a control connection. A data connection is a channel on which files are transferred. A control connection, on the other hand, is a separate channel that allows for user commands. With a control connection, you can open folders, create new folders, delete existing folders, and execute other commands.
What Is SFTP?
SFTP is an extension of FTP that, as the name indicates, is secure. It leverages Secure Shell (SSH) technology to create a secure connection. Most FTP clients support both FTP and SFTP. You can configure an FTP client to use SFTP to create a secure connection between your computer and your website’s server.
SFTP uses the same client-server architecture as its FTP counterpart. You can upload and download files simultaneously using SFTP. SFTP simply features SSH, which is a cryptographic protocol.
Differences Between FTP and SFTP
FTP and SFTP feature the same underlying technology, and they are both used for the same purpose of transferring files. The difference is that SFTP leverages SSH, whereas FTP does not. SFTP will create an encrypted connection using SSH.
As a cryptographic protocol, SSH offers file, as well as command data, encryption. All files that you upload to or download from your website’s server will be encrypted. SFTP is characterized by the use of SSH, so it retains file encryption. It will encrypt all files during the transfer process. SFTP will also decrypt the files once they’ve reached their destination.
FTP doesn’t use SSH, nor does it use any other cryptographic protocol. Cryptographic protocols like SSH are designed to encrypt files and data. Without a cryptographic protocol, FTP won’t encrypt your files.
FTP is faster than SFTP. If you’re transferring a small file, such as a plain-text file, you probably won’t notice a difference. For large files, however, FTP will prove noticeably faster. FTP doesn’t offer encryption. Rather, it allows for the transfer of files in their original and unmodified state, resulting in faster uploading and downloading times.
Another difference between FTP and SFTP is that the former protocol uses two separate connections – a data connection and a command connection – whereas the latter protocol uses a single connection. SFTP uses an SSH connection. You can still execute commands with SFTP, but command data is transferred over the same SSH connection as the files.
Why You Should Use SFTP
When given the option of FTP and SFTP, you should choose the latter. Only SFTP is secure. With SFTP, you can transfer files between your computer and your website’s server without fear of them being intercepted.
The encryption offered by SFTP will protect your files from interception. Encrypted files undergo a scrambling process that modifies their data. After reaching their destination, encrypted files are decrypted with a cryptographic key. They will remain encrypted, though, during the transfer.
Any file can technically be intercepted when transferred from one device to another device. If a hacker breaches the connection between your computer and your website’s server, they may intercept your files while they are being transferred. With that said, SFTP will ensure that no one else is able to read your files.
Only your computer and your website’s server will have the cryptographic key needed to read the files. Encrypted files are essentially useless without the cryptographic key. A hacker may intercept them, but the files will consist of scrambled data rather than their original data.
SFTP doesn’t just encrypt files; it encrypts all forms of data. Whether you use FTP or SFTP, you’ll have to log in to your site’s server. Logging in requires entering the server’s hostname or Internet Protocol (IP) address along with the username and password provided by your hosting service.
FTP uses cleartext login submissions. The username and password that you enter will be sent in plain text. Like with unencrypted files, cleartext login submissions can be intercepted. If your username and password are intercepted, your website’s server may become compromised.
SFTP doesn’t use cleartext login submissions. It uses an SSH connection to transfer all forms of data, including usernames and passwords. Your login submissions will be encrypted with SFTP. Login submissions are transferred over the same SSH connection as files and command data.
The only real advantage FTP offers over SFTP is speed. FTP is faster than SFTP because it doesn’t use encryption. But that’s not a good enough reason to use FTP. If you need to transfer many large files, you can queue them. The queued files will transfer one by one automatically. And as long as you use SFTP, they’ll be encrypted.
There are different protocols that you can use to transfer files when developing a website. Among the most common are FTP and SFTP. SFTP is a secure extension of FTP. It leverages SSH to encrypt files, login submissions, and command data. While slower than FTP, SFTP offers a superior level of security thanks to its encryption.