SFTP commands cheat sheet

See also: Best Free SFTP Servers

SFTP offers a secure way to transfer files between computers with encryption. Although many people assume the acronym stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol, it is actually the SSH File Transfer Protocol.

SFTP is a variation of the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), which is one of the oldest internet applications. Both SFTP and FTP are standard definitions, not programs. It is up to others to write an SFTP program, but they must follow the SFTP standard in order to make it compatible with other SFTP programs.

In a standard implementation, an SFTP program runs at the command line. The utility has its own environment. So when you enter an SFTP session, you should see the command line prompt change to sftp>.

Once logged into an SFTP session, normal commands for the operating system won’t work. Instead, you must use the command language specified in the SFTP standard.

Most frequently used SFTP commands

Some most commonly used SFTP commands include:

CommandDescription
?List of all commands or explain a command, eg ? get
!Leave the environment temporarily *
cdChange the active directory on the remote host
chmodChange the permissions of files on the remote host
chownChange the owner of files on the remote host
dirList the contents of the current directory on the remote host
exitClose the connection and leave SFTP
getCopy a file from the remote host to the local computer
help Same as ?
lcdChange the active directory on the local computer
llsList the contents of the current directory on the local computer
lmkdirCreate a directory on the local computer
lnCreate a symbolic link for a file on the remote host
lpwdShow the present working directory on the local computer
lsSame as dir
lumaskChange the local umask value
mkdirCreate a directory on the remote host
putCopy a file from the local computer to the remote host
pwdShow the present working directory on the remote host
quitSame as exit
renameRename a file on the remote host
rmDelete a file on the remote host
rmdirRemove an empty directory on the remote host
symlink             Same as ln
versionShow the SFTP version

* to return to SFTP type exit. Execute commands in the underlying operating system without leaving SFTP by putting ! in front of the command, eg !date

SFTP implementations

Not every computer will have an SFTP program, but just about all computers do have FTP. For example, FTP is bundled into all Microsoft operating systems, but SFTP isn’t. There are also GUI versions of SFTP available and they take care of all of the commands for you through interpretive buttons and menu options. Whether you prefer a GUI SFTP implementation or you want to use the system at the command line, you will need to find and install an SFTP utility.

Do you have a favorite SFTP program that you use a lot? Leave a message in the comments section below and let us all know about it.

See also: SolarWinds SFTP/SCP Server review

Image: Server web secure by RRZEicons via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0