By Ellie / Last Updated March 29, 2024

What are FTP and SFTP?

When moving data, especially in Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) processes, the protocol you pick is crucial. FTP and SFTP are both available for file transfer, yet they vary considerably in terms of security and functionality. To understand these differences, let's start with a basic overview of FTP vs SFTP.

What is FTP?

FTP, a protocol utilized for file transfer between hosts, encounters challenges such as disparate file names and directories when sending and receiving files across different systems. Notably, FTP lacks a secure channel for transferring files between hosts and typically operates on port number 21.


Primarily, FTP serves purposes like transferring web pages and downloading files from various servers. Its main function lies in reliably and efficiently transferring files between systems.

What is SFTP?

SFTP, a secure file transfer protocol between hosts or systems, establishes a protected channel for data transmission. It operates by initiating a control connection under the SSH protocol and typically operates on port number 22.


Essentially, SFTP serves as a protocol tailored for transferring large files over the web securely. It excels in handling sensitive data across various scenarios. Consequently, businesses can confidently transmit files containing confidential information using SFTP.

FTP vs SFTP: 8 major differences between the two file transfer tools

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) share similarities in their functionalities, yet they diverge in significant ways. Here are the eight key distinctions to consider between them.

This is a quick view of SFTP vs FTP:




Network communication approach

FTP does not encrypt data during transfer, leaving it exposed.

SFTP encrypts data, ensuring security during transfer.

Firewall support

FTP requires secondary data connections, complicating firewall configurations.

SFTP uses a single connection through one port, facilitating firewall setup.

Transfer speeds

FTP offers faster speeds due to its simplicity.

SFTP slows down file delivery due to resource-heavy operations.

Binary & ASCII

FTP supports both binary and ASCII transmissions, aiding log maintenance.

SFTP supports only binary transmission, lacking options for mode selection.

.NET compatibility

.NET includes commands for FTP mode file uploads.

.NET lacks support for building programs with SFTP functionalities.

Usage commands

FTP offers a limited set of commands with less control over remote files.

SFTP provides an extensive list of commands with precise controls, including file permissions.


FTP is gradually being phased out for HTTPS and other protocols.

SFTP is widely adopted, and supported by most servers and cloud storage solutions.


FTP introduces higher vulnerability risk due to unencrypted transfers and multi-port operations.

SFTP introduces lower vulnerability risk due to encrypted transfers and single-port operations.

Difference 1. SFTP prioritizes encryption in file transfers, whereas FTP lacks this security feature

SFTP was initially crafted as a secure shell protocol for network communication, primarily aimed at facilitating remote login and executing command-line actions while upholding security standards.

Emerging in the 1990s, amidst growing internet-related security concerns, there arose a necessity to rethink network communication protocols, especially for commercial applications. SSH, the foundation of SFTP, employs public-key cryptography for authentication, ensuring every connection is validated via a public-private key pair based on cryptographic algorithms. This authentication method remains consistent whether SSH is utilized for file transfers or other purposes.

Data Encryption

In contrast, FTP operates as a connectionless, message-oriented protocol, relying on a basic user ID and password combination for network communication authentication. It operates without the need for a pre-established, authenticated connection between the server and the client. Notably, all transmitted information, including user IDs, passwords, and message text, is sent in plaintext without encryption. This exposes vulnerabilities, as malicious actors can easily intercept and exploit unencrypted data.

Difference 2. SFTP is favored for use with firewalls over FTP

As mentioned, SFTP uses a single connection between the client and the server, removing the requirement to open multiple ports. It operates through a dedicated port designated for connecting to a remote computer. This streamlined approach reduces the number of vulnerable points available for exploitation by malicious actors. Single-port SFTP configurations are well-suited for integration with robust firewalls in organizational settings. By establishing a consolidated connection between the client and the server, the firewall can effectively monitor for anomalies, suspicious activity, and potential threats within this connection.

Firewall Protection

In contrast, FTP operates by initiating multiple channels to facilitate file transfers. This process is automated, with the client and software negotiating the required channels. However, this approach requires opening multiple ports on the client-side firewall. While seemingly efficient, this practice inadvertently exposes the client's firewall to potential vulnerabilities. The proliferation of open channels creates security loopholes that could be exploited, jeopardizing the confidentiality and integrity of transferred data.

While it's possible to mitigate this issue by manually configuring a limited range of ports that the FTP server can access, this solution is time-consuming and not inherently built into the protocol itself, unlike SFTP.

Difference 3. SFTP file transfer speeds typically lag behind those of FTP

An SFTP connection typically exhibits significantly slower speeds compared to an FTP connection, often by several orders of magnitude. This discrepancy can primarily be attributed to the substantial additional overhead inherent in packet delivery, encryption, and handshaking within the SSH-2 protocol that powers SFTP. In contrast, FTP operates without such considerations.

At its core, SFTP relies on the transmission control protocol (TCP) architecture, which is known for its resource-intensive nature. TCP meticulously checks header fields, acknowledges and synchronizes message delivery, and implements various error-checking mechanisms to ensure reliability.

File Transfer Speed

In contrast, FTP is characterized by its lean and straightforward design, featuring minimal additional overhead. It was specifically engineered for swift file transfers. While the encryption introduced by FTP may cause a slight slowdown, it is not comparable to the impact experienced with SFTP.

SFTP, functioning as a push-based protocol, operates over SSH-2. Consequently, it is vulnerable to restrictions imposed by client and server machines, as well as network latency. This susceptibility stems from the handshake process accompanying every packet exchanged between the client and server, along with the added complexity involved in decoding SSH-2 packets. SSH-2 was primarily designed to replace insecure remote shells rather than to support high-speed communications. Moreover, the secure packaging and transfer of numerous data types over SSH-2 further contribute to the protocol's complexity and overhead.

Difference 4. SFTP only handles binary data, while FTP supports both binary and ASCII

This is a key reason why some organizations still favor FTP over SFTP for internal operations. The File Transfer Protocol allows users to transfer data in either binary or ASCII mode.

ASCII mode converts binary combinations, consisting of ones and zeroes, into a format readable by humans. Although not exactly like natural language such as English, ASCII includes abbreviations like STX or SYN that trained users can understand. FTP supports ASCII transmissions, which proves highly beneficial for logging purposes. IT administrators can easily comprehend network protocol activities, aiding in identifying bottlenecks.

Binary and ASCII

In contrast, SFTP lacks an ASCII mode. All data is transmitted in binary mode, ensuring consistency between the sender's and receiver's information. There's no mechanism to convert strings from one operating system to another, making SFTP logging complex. Default SFTP setups make creating and maintaining logs nearly impossible, leading organizations to rely on managed file transfer (MFT) tools to address this issue.

Additionally, SFTP's reliance on binary makes it more suitable for Linux and Unix environments. It cannot convert strings into a human-readable format for users across different environments.

Difference 5. FTP is compatible with .NET frameworks, whereas SFTP lacks compatibility

.NET is a proprietary software framework developed by Microsoft, enabling developers to create programs compatible with the Windows operating system. Renowned for its user-friendly interface and cross-platform functionality, .NET is also accessible as an open-source codebase on GitHub. Microsoft provides extensive support for the framework, regularly releasing new versions every one or two years until 2019, when the pandemic disrupted release schedules.


However, .NET does not natively support SFTP protocols. Developers leveraging .NET cannot utilize this protocol for file transfer or management. Conversely, the framework offers various commands tailored for uploading files in FTP mode.

Difference 6. SFTP commands give more control than FTP commands

Both SFTP and FTP can be accessed via a Command Line Interface (CLI), readily available on most major operating systems. This accessibility ensures that both protocols are widely available across various systems. However, when comparing the CLI commands for SFTP and FTP, SFTP offers a greater number of commands with more precise control.

Key SFTP commands for organizations include:

  • chown: Modify ownership information of files on the remote host.
  • chmod: Adjust file permissions on the remote host.
  • mkdir: Create new directories on the remote host.
  • rename: Change file names on the remote host.
  • ln or symlink: Create links to remote files, acting as file shortcuts.


In contrast, FTP commands are simpler and more limited in functionality. Users can primarily access and retrieve files from a remote connection without substantial modifications to files or directories. For example, FTP commands cannot modify or configure file ownership permissions.

Key FTPS commands for organizations include:

  • cd: Change the working directory on the FTP host server (similar to an FTPS server).
  • open/close: Initiate or terminate an FTPS connection.
  • ls: Request a list of available file names for download.
  • abor: Cancel a file transfer in progress.
  • size: Retrieve the size of a remote file as a decimal number.

Due to differences in their foundational protocols, SFTP and FTPS follow distinct command terminologies and lexicons.

Difference 7. SFTP experiences broader adoption compared to FTPS

Over time, FTP has become deprecated and fallen out of favor. While some organizations, Managed File Transfer (MFT) solutions, and independent web developers still utilize FTP for basic file transfers, it is primarily employed for public and non-sensitive data. However, as an outdated legacy protocol originating from the 1970s, FTP is out of step with modern internet requirements.

Certain servers may not support FTP over TLS or SSL, resulting in users being compelled to resort to plaintext FTP. Furthermore, major web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox are progressively discontinuing support for FTP, which further reduces its adoption.

In contrast, SFTP is a more recent protocol compared to FTP, with the latest version (version 6, draft 13) introduced in 2006. All major web browsers endorse SFTP, and there exists a plethora of enterprise-grade SFTP solutions offered by leading vendors. For instance, IBM servers and Microsoft Azure cloud buckets can be configured to adhere to SFTP file transfer protocols.

Difference 8. SFTP presents fewer vulnerabilities compared to FTP

SFTP outperforms FTP in terms of vulnerability mitigation as well. Any vulnerability in the file transfer process can potentially lead to a data breach. FTP, in particular, harbors several notable vulnerabilities.

Firstly, FTP is susceptible to human error. Sending files to incorrect recipients or transferring the wrong files altogether can result in significant issues for your company. With the enhanced security offered by SFTP, the risk of human error can be minimized. Additionally, fostering a culture of security awareness within your business can further mitigate the potential for human errors.

Intercepting data is relatively straightforward with FTP. With the right tools and minimal knowledge, even amateur hackers can exploit these vulnerabilities. The value of sensitive data often makes it too risky to neglect the threat of interception.


Moreover, FTP lacks the use of host keys to verify a recipient's identity before initiating a transfer, unlike SFTP. This represents another vulnerability in FTP transfers. A single accidental transfer to an unintended recipient can compromise a file.

For secure data transfers, SFTP stands as the superior option. Confidence can be placed in the encryption measures being compliant with standards, while also sidestepping the inherent vulnerabilities associated with FTP transfers. Opting for a secure SFTP cloud file sharing solution further reinforces the assurance that appropriate measures are taken to safeguard your data.

FTP vs. SFTP: which should you choose?

When choosing between FTP vs. SFTP, there isn't a universal solution. The choice depends on the specific file transfer requirements. Consider the sensitivity of the data being transferred; if security is paramount (as it often is), SFTP is likely the preferred option. However, other factors may also be important to consider.

SFTP typically operates slower than FTP due to the inherent security features of the protocol. Encryption adds processing time, and the protocol itself functions differently from FTP, which affects speed.

One drawback of SFTP is its reliance on SSH for authentication. Consequently, if anonymous user connections are necessary (e.g., for a public file server), FTP would be a suitable choice.

Bonus tip: Easy & fast GUI file transfer tool

As FTP and SFTP have long been primary options for file transfers, the evolving landscape now presents alternatives. AnyViewer emerges as a versatile and user-friendly solution for remote file transfer, equipped with features tailored to meet modern demands for efficiency and security.

  • User-friendly interface: AnyViewer features an intuitive and user-friendly interface, accessible to users of all technical backgrounds. Unlike traditional FTP clients that may require manual configuration and command-line operations, AnyViewer simplifies the file transfer process with its graphical interface.
  • Seamless remote access: In addition to file transfer, AnyViewer excels in providing remote access to computers. This functionality is invaluable for tasks like troubleshooting, collaboration, or accessing files on a remote computer without requiring complex setups.
  • Secure file transfers with encryption: Security is paramount for AnyViewer. All file transfers are encrypted end-to-end, ensuring a secure environment for the exchange of sensitive data. This encryption guarantees the confidentiality of files during the transfer process, addressing concerns associated with traditional FTP.
  • Multi-file & bulk transfers: AnyViewer enables the simultaneous transfer of multiple files, streamlining the process for users managing large volumes of data. This efficiency is particularly advantageous for businesses or enterprises involved in projects requiring the exchange of numerous files.

Step 1. Begin by downloading and installing AnyViewer on both devices.

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Step 2. Open AnyViewer on the remote device and complete the easy sign-up process.

Log in AnyViewer.png

Step 3. Log in to your local device using the same AnyViewer account.

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Step 4. Head to the "Device" section, locate your desired remote device, and kickstart file sharing by clicking on "File transfer."

File Transfer AnyViewer

Step 5. You're all set to smoothly transfer files between the two devices.

Choose Files

Just a heads up, if you're handling smaller files, AnyViewer's free version works perfectly fine. However, for larger file transfers, consider upgrading to the Professional or Enterprise plan. With the upgrade, you'll enjoy:
Transfer of hefty files up to 1TB each.
Speeding up transfers with a maximum transfer speed of 10 MB/s.
Effortlessly managing multiple transfers with support for 5 threads.
No limits on the number of files you can transfer simultaneously.


The bottom line

In conclusion, when comparing FTP vs SFTP, it's essential to understand their differences to make an informed choice. SFTP prioritizes security with encryption, making it ideal for sensitive data transfers. In contrast, FTP offers faster speeds but lacks encryption, exposing vulnerabilities. Organizations must weigh their specific needs against these factors.

Additionally, AnyViewer emerges as a user-friendly alternative for remote file transfer, offering secure encryption and seamless access. Whether choosing FTP or SFTP, or opting for a modern tool like AnyViewer, prioritizing data security and efficiency is paramount in today's digital landscape.