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FTP and SFTP – what to choose?

SFTP vs FTP – what to choose? Find out the difference today!

You might wonder, “what is FTP?” and “what is SFTP?” before deciding which of these two protocols you should work with. Well, FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, and SFTP stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol. 

What is FTP?

FTP is a standard file transfer protocol that transfers files from your computer to a server over a network, for example, the internet. FTP is similar to a special language that computers use to transfer files over TCP or IP networks. You can read more about IP networks here

FTP was published in 1971. In 1971 files were small, and hackers were unheard of. The internet consisted of a handful of systems and was still very young. It was not until 1999 that the security issues with FTP were found and thoroughly investigated. Most of them have now been resolved or mitigated, but some persist.

Let’s provide you with an example of how FTP works. If you want to upload some files that you want your co-workers to download, you upload them to your FTP server and your co-workers (no matter where they are in the world) can connect to that FTP server where you have uploaded your files and download them. You can use a dedicated FTP server to share your files, as in this example. However, you don’t have to set up a dedicated FTP server if you don’t want to. You can also configure your computer to act as a FTP server. 

File Transfer Protocol through an internet browser

You can transfer your files through an FTP server by using your internet browser or a FTP client. Let’s say that your friend has taken some photos, and they want your opinion on it; they upload the photos to a FTP server and share the address with you. You would then type down the FTP server’s address in your internet browser as an URL. Instead of typing out HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) at the beginning of the URL as you would if you wanted to check out an image in google, you would type FTP at the beginning of the URL. 

Your friend, or the FTP server owner, decides the type of authentication they want on the FTP server. They can choose that you need to log in using a username and a password, or they can choose that you can log in anonymously without the need for a username or password. 

File Transfer Protocol through FTP client

Another way that you can download your friend’s photos is through FTP client. You can download any FTP client you’d like and perhaps even experience the process as much smoother. With a FTP client, you can also upload photos of your own to the server effortlessly. All you need to do is drag the photos to your friend’s server.

What is SFTP?

So what is the difference between a SFTP and FTP server? A FTP server is not a secure server. You cannot encrypt the files you share. Thus, if you want to share sensitive information, you should not transfer it through a FTP server. FTP is still the predominant standard for file transfer, but not for any logical reason as it is not encrypted and thus insecure.

As a solution to the problems with FTP, some alternatives were proposed and developed. The already encrypted connection of an SSH connection quickly became the new FTP protocol’s foundation called SFTP. SFTP stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol. The first draft for SFTP was published in 2001, and it has since grown to replace FTP quickly.

As FTP is not encrypted, SFTP fixed this by being built on a secure subsystem of SSH. Hence, the major difference between SFTP and FTP is the layer of security that SFTP offers. The data or information that is being transferred is encrypted with secure shell during the actual transfer. So SFTP encryption means that the information you’re sending is not being sent in clear text but as encryption. 

Furthermore, SFTP provides a more stable connection and error handling than FTP. It allows the file sizes to be quadrupled when transferring files. At one.com, the file size limit for FTP transfer is 4GB, but 16GB for SFTP. The SFTP protocol also has many smaller benefits, such as easier configuration on both ends of the connection. 

In addition, when you transfer data through FTP, the FTP protocol opens multiple channels to complete the transfer you have required. When you transfer the data through SFTP instead, the SFTP protocol only opens port 22. 

We offer SFTP at one.com to help you increase security and make it harder for any hackers to access your files.

SFTP vs FTP

So, which one should you use and is SFTP secure? Yes, SFTP is very secure and, by all means, better when transferring files. The security issues alone should be the deciding factor. Use SFTP whenever possible, or risk hackers snooping on your passwords.