SFTP vs SCP – What’s the Difference for Secure File Sharing?

SFTP vs SCP – What’s the Difference for Secure File Sharing? (Pros and Cons). SCP and SFTP are file transfer protocols with better security features. SFTP stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol, whereas SCP implies Secure Copy Protocol. The two file sharing protocols are quite similar in many ways, such as using SSH for encryption, TCP as the transport layer, supporting no file size restriction, supporting SSH, the public key and password authentication.

Choosing between the two is quite challenging for businesses. Therefore we made an article where we will discuss SFTP and SCP in detail. Further, we will highlight their pros and cons.

If you are planning to choose one for your business, we have also listed a few points of difference that will definitely benefit in making a final decision.  Let us compare these protocols based on speed, security, operations, functionality, supporting large files and resuming transfers.

What is SFTP

SFTP was developed in the 1990s by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for making file transfers quick and secure. It also supports Secure Shell (SSH) security components like SCP.

Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is a network protocol that manages and transfers files on remote systems securely. Using SFTP server, businesses can transfer any data, including information related to funds, data and disaster recovery files, billing information, etc., securely as it encrypts all the data and commands.

It comprises Secure Shell (SSH) security components that ensure all files are transferred over the TCP/IP network in a secure manner. Under SFTP software, users have the power to select the authentication level when sending files over the web. They can choose a user ID and password, pair of SSH keys, or opt for no authentication method.

SFTP is today one of the most used file transfer protocols as it maintains a high level of security. Also, it is the best option for any company that does not want to expose its sensitive data to unauthorized parties.

It is an inherently secure protocol as no one can trigger or turn off the encryption system in the SFTP.
To use SFTP, you must have an SFTP client (allows uploading and downloading files to/from the server) and an SFTP server (place to store and retrieve files).

Pros of SFTP

  • SFTP supports a single port which makes it easy to use behind the firewall.
  • Enables secure connection.
  • SFTP reduces business costs by covering all expenses for hardware, software, maintenance, and support.
  • No need for data connection or hardware.
  • Uniform Directory Listing.
  • Flexible file transfer protocol.
  • Offers complete control over files and data.
  • Stores file in a single location and allow access to fetch files from any location.
  • Users authorized with the right permissions have access to upload and download files conveniently.
  • Maintains data security using SSH keys or username and password authentication methods.
  • Backed by a professional team to monitor and secure connections 24/7.
  • Secures backup and stays prepared for off site disaster recovery.
  • The file management process is convenient with SFTP.
  • Allows secure transmissions.
  • Screen sessions support.
  • Allows implementation of the SSH3 protocol.
  • Fully supports IPV6 HTTP protocol.
  • Allows use of password and public key authentication methods.
  • Allows command execution over SSH channel.

Cons of SFTP

  • Difficult to read and log in as the communication is in binary form.
  • Validation and management of SSH keys is not an easy task.
  • Potential compatibility issues due to SFTP configurations.
  • SSH/SFTP is not supported by .NET and VCL.

What is SCP

SCP stands for Secure Copy Protocol, a file transfer protocol that supports an SSH based method. It helps in transferring files from localhost to remote hosts better security features.

Developed by the Open SSH Project, SCP works with RCP (transfers files to other systems) and SSH (secures the files via authentication and encryption). Users can also add time stamps to respective files using a secure shell under this protocol.

The best part about Secure Copy Protocol is it blocks hackers who try to steal sensitive information from the data packets. It is a cross platform compatible with all standard Windows, Linux, and macOS operating systems. Further, they also work great on mobile operating systems like Android and IOS.

In order to use SCP, users must have the necessary permission or authentication from hosts, and there must be an SSH connection between the local and targeted host. Once the connection is established, clients can begin transferring files securely using SCP.

SCP is a one line command that supports two modes, i.e., source and sink mode. Source mode triggers when a client wants to send data to a remote server and enters the -t switch, and Sink mode triggers when the client has to fetch files from the remote computer and uses the -f switch. It also uses TCP port 22 similar to SFTP.

Pros of SCP

  • Creates a secure connection between two devices when transferring files.
  • Adds more security to files.
  • It helps avoid packet sniffers by keeping data in SSH.
  • Allows users to add timestamps to the files.
  • Secure Copy Protocol is an easy to use protocol that transmits files faster.
  • SCP is compatible with operating systems like Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
  • SCP supports mobile operating systems like Android and IOS.
  • It uses SSH for encryption and TCP as the transport layer.
  • Supports SSH public key and/or password authentication.
  • It has the ability to list directories.
  • Supports access permission.
  • It has no file size restrictions, i.e., users can even transfer large size files.

Cons of SCP

  • SCP has low performance in functions compared to other protocols.
  • Users cannot locate or remove files like other protocols.
  • It is less platform independent.
  • Do not proceed with transfers unless connectivity issues are resolved.

SFTP vs SCP - Key Differences

Both SFTP and SCP are indeed similar, but still, they differ in various aspects. In this blog  SFTP vs SCP – What’s the Difference for Secure File Sharing? follow the below listed parameters to check how the two protocols are different from one another.

1. Speed

SCP is much faster in speed compared to SFTP when transferring files. The reason behind faster speed is the ability to confirm received packets quickly. SFTP acknowledges each packet while SCP does not perform this operation. As a result, SCP can transfer files faster than SFTP.

2. Security

SFTP and SCP both run on SSH and support public key authentication, password and data in motion encryption techniques.

3. Large file transfers

There is no file size restriction for both protocols. Hence, determining and comparing whether the two support large file transfers completely depend on the application.

4. Resume file transfer feature

In case the files get interrupted while transferring, SFTP allows resuming the interrupted files, whereas SCP does not support this feature. The only thing you can do with SCP is overwrite the partially copied/transferred file.

5. Operations

SFTP performs several operations, including file transfers, locating them and removes as per the client requirement. However, SCP only supports file transfers.

6. Functionality

With SCP, you cannot create directory listings or delete them. However, in SFTP, you can perform these operations quickly and on your own.

Great! We have learned SFTP vs SCP – What’s the Difference for Secure File Sharing? (Pros and Cons).

SFTP vs SCP - What's the Difference for Secure File Sharing? Conclusion

Do you know both SFTP and SCP use TCP port 22 as default when transferring files? Similarly, there are other features that make the two protocols quite similar in nature.

Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) uses SSH security components to transfer data recovery files and other sensitive data. It also allows users to choose the mode of authentication as per the need.

Secure Copy Protocol (SCP), on the other hand, helps in securely transferring files from localhost to remote hosts. It is a cross platform compatible with various operating systems like Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, and IOS. It is a must to have the necessary permission or authentication from hosts in order to run SCP.

We have compared the two on the basis of speed, security, operations, functionality, support for large files and resuming transfers.
There is no clear winner in this case, but both fulfill the file transfer requirements. If we compare SCP and STFP on the basis of file management capabilities, SFTP beats SCP. Similarly, if we compare the two based on the fast programmatic transfer option, SCP wins over SFTP.
We recommend going through the above listed pros, cons, and key differences to make a final decision.

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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