What is the difference between FTP and SFTP?

difference between ftp and sftp

Are you looking for the difference between FTP and SFTP?

On the molecular level, they both fulfil the same task, but many things make them different from each other.

In this article, we will look for the difference between FTP and SFTP. By doing so, we will find out which one is best for the transferring data on the WordPress site.

Difference between FTP and SFTP

The primary difference between FTP and SFTP is that SFTP transfers data via the secure channel in an encrypted format, while FTP does not. SFTP allows the encryption of files while transferring them between web server and client. In FTP, the data transfers between FTP client and a web server is in plain text, hence not secure.

If you know the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, then you can quickly grasp the concept of the difference between FTP and SFTP. While being same at the core of functionality, one has much better security.

What is FTP?

FTP or File Transfer Protocol is designed to establish a communication channel between server and client. FTP transmit data over the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) network that is the Internet. Users that have permissions and authentication to access the files can enable the FTP connection.

Typically, there are so many files on the websites/apps, that managing them from the server is quite challenging. The FTP proposes a comfortable and secure approach to organise the server files.

The developer or webmaster can access the server files via a web browser, or FTP client. Web browsers are often slow in responding to the users’ requests, while FTP clients create a direct route to the server.

You need two parties to establish the FTP connection to the network. But first, the user has to provide the credentials to the FTP server. These credentials are typically unique for the user, and the server user is accessing.

Advantages of FTP

The advantages of FTP are:

  • 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 customs script to perform specific functions.

Disadvantages of FTP

The drawbacks of FTP are:

  • Not all FTP transmissions are secured, but they should be.
  • FTP have their 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 port or unauthorized computers.

What is SFTP?

SFTP stands for SSH File Transfer Protocol and it is a secure way to send and receive files over the network. As we mentioned, FTP can transfer files between server and client, but the FTP is not adequately designed for the security. There are flaws in the FTP connection that hackers can exploit to brute force the FTP or spoof the servers.

The password that FTP needs to create a connection with the server is in the plaintext. Having a password in plaintext is a significant threat, as the men in the middle attacks are easy to perform. Attackers can intercept the password, and misuse it. Next, the data transfer with FTP is also sent in plain text, which is again insecure.

So, SFTP presents the secure channel to transfer the file over the network. SFTP work along with SSH which is a security shell in Unix.

SSH protocol (also referred to as Secure Shell) is an alternative protocol that provides secure access and hardens the communication security. It enables secure remote login from one computer to another.

Along with SSH, SFTP established a connection between server and client that is secure and transmits encrypted data. The SFTP works the same as FTP, but it sends the data through SSH’s secure channel.

Advantages of SFTP

The advantages of SFTP

  • Encryption: SFTP scrambles the files and data before transferring them. Even if someone get hold of the file in the middle, it will make zero sense without the keys.
  • Host Authenticate: It enables the clients to authenticate if they are connecting to the correct server. It saves them from sending the files to the wrong servers or downloading the spams.
  • Compliance: Due to the secure transfer protocol, the SFTP comes under all the compliance laws. 

Disadvantages of SFTP

The drawbacks of SFTP are:

  • As communication is binary, it can’t be logged in.
  • SSH keys are themselves a challenge and hard to manage.
  • Additional work for the IT employees to set up SSH keys
  • SSH keys need to stored on the local devices too.
  • SFTP little bit slower than FTP due to additional packets and proxies.

FTP v SFTP Comparison

The critical difference is security. But other differences are mentioned in the table below.

ParameterFTPSFTP
BasicDoes not offer a secure channel to transfer the files.Send and receives file server secure channel and encrypts files.
EncryptionUsually, there is no encryptionCompletely encrypted
Architecture SideServer-sideSSH
ProtocolTCP/IP ProtocolSSH Protocol
No of Channels21
PopularYes. FTP is commonly used.No.
Transfer methodDirect transferSSH Tunnel
PortPort 21Port 22

Frequently Asked Questions

Is SFTP faster than FTP?

No, FTP is faster than SFTP. FTP is simplistic and does not have to worry about encryption, secure shells, or keys. SFTP is secure due to additional SSH protocol, encryptions, and handshaking overhead to match the keys. FTP does not do any of it and simply transfers the data from one computer to another.

Why is SFTP preferred over FTP?

SFTP is preferred over FTP because SFTP is more secure than the FTP. FTP sends and receives the plaintext data, while SFTP encrypts the data and sends it over the SSH. To keep the data safe during the transfer between the hosts, SFTP is preferred.

Use FTP or SFTP?

SFTP is more secure than FTP, and we suggest you use SFTP. At ServerGuy, we offer both, but we recommend SFTP and offers SSH access to the servers.

Besides being secure, SFTP is also compliance-friendly, saving you from penalty and fines if you are into eCommerce.

So, in this article, we explored the difference between FTP and SFTP. I hope you have your answer, and if there is any doubt, you can leave it in the comments.

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