Whether you’re an agency owner, a developer, or you just run a small WordPress site, if you try to transfer your files in bulk, you’ll find yourself faced with a choice: use FTP, or SFTP? Both refer to methods of connecting to your website’s server, and both are used to manage and transfer site files and databases. But, although their acronyms are similar, there are some key differences between the two.
At Nimbus, we offer both methods of file management – including via our new FTP migration tool – but when it comes to deciding which is objectively best between FTP vs SFTP, it’s often the circumstances that dictate which option you should choose. This guide will run you through the protocols, including their differences, their similarities, and which is best suited to various tasks.
What is FTP?
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It’s the easiest solution for transferring large amounts of data using the client/server model – it sends and receives plaintext data, without encryption, secure shells, or keys.
There are several benefits to using FTP, including:
- It can be used to transfer large files
- It can be used to transfer multiple directories at once
- You have control over those transfers
- It can be used for WordPress management
- You can migrate web hosts whenever you need
For a more in-depth explanation of FTP, read our guide.
Introducing our FTP migration tool
We’ve made improvements to our migrations tool, and now it’s back and ready to help ensure moving your sites to a Nimbus server is simpler than ever. We’ve made transferring the data for your site a matter of only three steps.
So whether you’ve got a last-minute client sign-up, or you want to improve a slow-loading speed, you can now action a migration in minutes – How to get started.
This, the secure access, is the main difference between FTP and SSH FTP. The latter uses tunnelling, and performs the file transfers via SSH, meaning that access to the data is secured.
While FTP uses a client/server direct-transfer approach, the tunnelling method used in SFTP only uses a single channel, and allows users to authenticate clients using either a username and password, or SSH cryptographic keys, for extra security. We’ve made it easy to manage your server using SSH. To get started, read our guide to connecting to your server via SSH.
But it’s not only these clients’ interfaces that make FTP and SFTP appear so similar. Truly, both file transfer protocols arereally quite similar. They both, for example, allow you to connect to your server. They both facilitate the transfer of files between your server and your local computer, and they both show all the files on your server. (Including the hidden ones). The differences, therefore, are not apparent at surface-level. It’s only when you look at the core ways the protocols are operating that you’ll be able to see any real discernible difference between the two.
The difference between FTP and SFTP
The real FTP vs SFTP debate begins once you examine the ways the protocols run. As SFTP uses a secure channel in order to transfer the files, the data that moves between your FTP client and your web server is encrypted. This protects your data from any malicious attempts to intercept the transfer.
You often also have additional authentication methods with this secure connection: a password, public key authentication, SSH agent, or challenge-response authentication. FTP, on the other hand, is usually secured via a simple combination of a username and password.
However, that doesn’t mean that FTP doesn’t have its own considerable benefits. For one, it’s a faster method of data transfer, with the architecture hosted server-side, and less security hoops for the protocol to jump through. For another, FTP is generally much easier for beginners to operate, which has made it a more popular choice for many end-users who don’t often need to make multiple, highly-sensitive transfers between their servers.
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The right tool, for the right job
There’s no denying that there are considerable differences between FTP and SFTP – at least, at the operational level. Though both FTP and SFTP are used for the same tasks, and offer a similar view of your server-level files, SFTP is a more complex and complicated tool, requiring more technical knowledge – but it is more secure. On the other hand, FTP is both easier to operate, and quicker to complete the transfers. It makes it the perfect choice for casual users, and when transferring multiple directories at speed.
At Nimbus, we’ve made it easy to use whichever transfer protocol you prefer – including with our new FTP migration tool, which makes bringing your sites over to a Nimbus server even simpler than ever. It’s designed to empower you to move your websites whenever you want, or need – so whether you’ve got a last-minute client sign up, or you want to improve a slow-loading speed, you can now action a migration in minutes.