The Difference Between SFTP & FTPS and Why It Matters

What does “FTPS” actually mean, then? Secure FTP, or File Transfer Protocol. The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) existed first, albeit in an insecure form. Connectivity security for FTPS is provided by SSL or TLS, the Secure Sockets Layer and Transport Layer Security protocols, respectively.

The public key certificate issued by the FTPS server provides this. Alternatively, the certificate could be self-signed rather than verified by an external authority. You still need to verify the host’s identity when using a self-signed certificate, but the encryption level is unaffected. You can either implicitly or explicitly safeguard your FTPS connection. Although a server administrator is free to change these defaults, FTPS servers typically accept implicit connections on port 990 and explicit connections on port 21.

When Using Ftps, What Should I Expect?


The client initiates an implicit connection by sending a TLS “Client Hello” message. If the server doesn’t get this notification, it assumes the connection isn’t secure and closes it immediately. If the server does get the “Client Hello” message, it will exchange certificates with the client so that the client can verify the server’s identity and use the certificate to encrypt a session key to transmit back to the server.

Clients using explicit FTPS request encryption in the form of a “AUTH TLS” (or AUTH SSL) command sent immediately following successful connection establishment. In the absence of the AUTH command, the FTPS server will interpret the client connection as a “normal,” non-secure FTP session.

Intriguingly, RFC 2228 (the FTPS documentation) only lists explicit connections and not the implicit ones. Once the session has begun, the client must authenticate to the FTPS server, often via user name and password but also potentially via client certificates.

The control channel (usually port 21 for explicit or 990 for implicit) is where all FTP commands are transmitted, however FTPS requires a different channel for data exchanges (the actual sending of files or directory lists). Data channels for explicit FTPS are port 20, and for implicit FTPS they are port 989. Whenever a need arises, a data channel is opened, and as soon as it is finished, it is closed again (the control channel remains open for the duration of the session).

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Explain the Distinction Between FTP and SFTP

As the first point of clarification, SFTP is not a flavor of FTP. Although many SFTP commands look similar to their FTPS counterparts, these two protocols are otherwise unrelated. SFTP is not simply File Transfer Protocol (FTP) over an SSH connection; rather, it is its own protocol in its own right that leverages SSH for authentication and security. Since SSH is the underlying protocol, the SSH port is always used (generally port 22).

With SFTP, we no longer rely on certificates for encryption and instead employ public/private key pairs, which are not issued by any reputable organisation. Similar to an FTPS self-signed certificate, the only thing you need to worry about is whether or not the SFTP server is really who it says it is. If you are sure you are connecting to the appropriate server, you may then accept the server key and begin exchanging files securely.

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Term Definitions Can Be Found in Our Glossary, Which You Can Access Here

The primary distinction between SFTP and FTPS is that the latter does not necessitate a separate data and control channel, allowing the server to run on a single port.

In order to prevent the need to keep and manage passwords, SFTP batch clients often authenticate by key only, in contrast to FTPS where clients occasionally submit a certificate for authentication.

Because of the extra procedures required to provide security, SFTP is typically slower than FTPS.

There Are 9 Key Distinctions Between FTP and SFTP

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, let’s compare FTPS and SFTP and see what sets them apart. The two are largely interchangeable, each being capable of the other’s corresponding actions with a few notable exceptions:

  • Through FTPS, you can programme in unique instructions.
  • File permissions, ownership, and properties are easier to manage with SFTP.
  • Trusted x.509 certificates are supported by FTPS.
  • The firewall needs only one port open for an SFTP server to function.
  • The FTPS protocol allows for EBCDIC data transfers.
  • Symbolic connection creation is possible using SFTP.
  • Unfortunately, SFTP is not supported by default on Windows servers or client machines.
  • For Unix and Linux servers, SFTP is easily manageable and deployable.

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For the Same Level of Security, Ftps Is Faster than SFTP


In most cases, the needs of the organisation will dictate the choice of protocol. In a network where most servers run Linux or Unix, SFTP may be the superior option. But SFTP is not the solution for a Windows server. For this to work, every device would need to have an SFTP client installed.

Some server administrators may not want SSH access enabled, while some firewall managers may prefer SFTP because of its single port.

The alternative is to install file transfer server software that supports both protocols and let users decide which one they want.