Best FTP and SFTP Clients

Secure File Transfer Protocol software or SFTP client refers to a tool that enables secure file transfer between a client and a server over an encrypted connection.

SFTP is an extension of the SSH (Secure Shell) protocol and provides a secure method for transferring files, ensuring confidentiality and data integrity.

There are a wide variety of premium and free SFTP server clients out there for you to try, so in this guide, we’ll help you narrow down your choices and find a solution that works best for you.

Here is our list of the best FTP and SFTP clients for Windows & Linux:

  1. Files.com (FREE TRIAL) A cloud-based file manager that can be used as both a client and a server for secure file transfers or for file sharing and storage. Access a 7-day free trial.
  2. ExaVault (FREE TRIAL) This cloud service operates as a mediator for file transfers so, it acts as a server, a storage system, and a forwarding mechanism. Start with a 30-day free trial.
  3. WinSCP Widely used and reliable, this package for Windows offers SFTP.FTPS, SCP, and WebDAV.
  4. SolarWinds Solar-PuTTY Free file transfer utility that includes SFTP FTP, and SCP options.
  5. JSCAPE MFT This on-premises enterprise-grade software suite provides SFTP for secure file movements and also offers FTPS, SCP, AFTP, TFTP, HTTP, HTTPS, and WebDAV.
  6. FileZilla Free secure file transfer facility for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
  7. CyberDuck Free secure file transfer utility that runs on Windows and Mac OS and integrates support for many popular cloud storage systems.
  8. MonstaFTP Online service that runs through your browser. It deploys FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and SCP. It is available in free and paid versions.
  9. Bitvise SSH Client This free package offers a secure terminal emulator as well as SFTP file transfer capabilities. This tool is free to use and runs on Windows.
  10. CoffeeCup Free FTP Client Free file transfer utility for Windows that includes FTP, FTPS, and SFTP.
  11. Progress WS_FTP Pro A file transfer client for Windows that offers FTP, FTPS, SFTP, HTTP, and HTTPS.

Note: We’re covering client software here. If you’re a network administrator looking for SFTP server software, check out The Best Free SFTP and FTPS Servers for Windows and Linux.

See also: SFTP Commands Cheat Sheet

What to look for in an FTP/SFTP client?

The answer to this question is really “it depends”. If you are a home user or just manage a WordPress site or two, you may be able to get away with a very simple file transfer client. All you may need is a simple graphical user interface (GUI) and support for a protocol or two. On the other hand, if you are an advanced user or subject to specific compliance requirements, you may have a much more extensive list of needs when it comes to your FTP/SFTP client software needs. Below is a quick rundown of some of the features you may want to keep an eye out for:

  • Protocols & encryption method support – Do you know you will only ever need SFTP support? Are you in a role where one server uses SFTP, another FTPS, another HTTPS, and another FTP? Similarly, do you care (for compliance reasons or otherwise) about the security of the encryption methods your client software uses? You’ll need to consider these points when picking client software.
  • Drag & drop – This is a convenience feature, but drag and drop with client software GUIs can streamline the file transfer process.
  • File integrity checks – How do you know if the file you moved from location A to location B made it there without any corruption? Comparing the hash or checksum can help you do this. Some client software will take care of this for you.
  • Scheduling of actions – How much time will you save if you or your team can automate your file transfers? If you are in a medium or larger-sized business, automating the easy stuff can help save on Opex.
  • Connection limits – Do you need to be able to make unlimited FTP/SFTP connections or can you get away with just one or two?
  • Logging – For auditing, compliance, and troubleshooting, detailed logs can be essential. Does logging matter to you?
  • Synchronization & backups – Do you need to be able to sync files at two different locations automatically? Would automating a backup process save your team a ton of time? If yes, look for these features in your client software.

The best SFTP clients for Windows & Linux

Our methodology for selecting FTP and SFTP clients

We reviewed the FTP and SFTP client market and analyzed the options based on the following criteria:

  • A user-friendly interface that non-technical staff can use
  • The ability to manage multiple sessions simultaneously
  • An easy setup procedure to add on more server destinations
  • A one-click function for connecting to a server
  • Activity logging
  • A free tool, a free trial period, or a money-back guarantee for assessment
  • A good price for the number and usefulness of tools built into the software

Features Comparison Table

Product/FeaturesFiles.comExaVaultWinSCPSolarWinds Solar-PuTTYJSCAPE MFTFileZillaCyberDuckMonstaFTPBitvise SSH ClientCoffeeCup Free FTP ClientProgress WS_FTP Pro
Supports FTP, SFTP, SCPYesYesYesYesYesYesYesNoYesYesYes
SSH Key Pair GenerationYesYesYesNo (free version)YesNoNoNoYesNoYes
Supports Secure Copy (SCP)YesYes (via WinSCP)YesYesYesNoNoNoYesNoNo
Drag-and-Drop FunctionalityYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Integrated Text EditorYesNoYesNoNoNoYesNoNoYesYes
Remote File EditingYesNoYesNoNoYesYesNoNoYesYes
Directory ComparisonYesYesYesNoNoYesNoNoYesYesYes
Synchronization FeaturesYesYesYesNoYesYesYesNoNoNoYes
Multi-Language SupportYesYesYesNoYesYesYesYesNoYesNo
Free Version Available7-day free trial30-day free trialYesYesFree DemoYesYesYesYesYesNo

1. Files.com (FREE TRIAL)

Files - Users view
A more comprehensive cloud-based tool you can use from anywhere

Files.com is a file management service that can be used to consolidate all file movements. As such, the cloud service will act both as an FTP or SFTP server and a client.

Key Features:

  • FTP or SFTP
  • Client and server
  • Includes backup storage
  • Security in transit and at rest
  • 7-day free trial

Why do we recommend it?

Files.com is a file transfer system that supports end users rather than technicians. It provides a secure way to eliminate the distribution of files to outsiders. Users upload their files over a secure connection to the Files.com server and email out an invite link instead. Users can control access to their files and revoke or limit the rights given to others.

The cloud service of Files.com acts as a secure buffer between your organization and the rest of the world and also creates a shared file space for collaboration. Files that are in transit get uploaded to the Files.com server and then the rest of the journey occurs virtually. The intended recipient of the file gets a link to access the file securely on the Files.com server. Settings on each file restrict the actions that each nominated recipient can perform on it, such as downloading it, altering it, or copying it.

The Files.com system can be used as a pass-through to other cloud storage services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive. The service also has online app integrations with productivity and collaboration software, such as Microsoft 365, so documents can be created, stored, and shared directly on the Files.com server. That eliminates the need for uploading and downloading files with FTP or SFTP.

Files devices
You can log in and send files from anywhere you have a device with an internet connection

Strictly speaking, FTP has no security. So, as all file transfers performed with Files.com are encrypted, it isn’t really an FTP service. The service implements FTP over TLS, which is better known as FTPS. SFTP, or SSH FTP, is implemented on Files.com using public keys provided by the ED25519, RSA, or DSA standards.

Files.com can interact with on-premises equipment as a mounted drive, through a web browser, or through desktop-based FTP utilities, such as CuteFTP or WinSCP. You can get a 7-day free trial of the Files.com service to see it for yourself.

Who is it recommended for?

This is a great tool for employees who need to regularly mail YouTube files. They can invite access to those files instead from their location on the cloud server. The system can become the primary file drive for an office community as well because it integrates with Microsoft 365 and email systems.

Pros:

  • Cloud-based file management makes the platform OS agnostic
  • Supports integrations into other cloud services such as Google Drive and Dropbox, making this a good option for businesses that use other cloud services
  • Files can be shared via link, keeping download times down and offering more control
  • Links can be set to expire, as well as be audited and controlled via permissions

Cons:

  • Files.com offers some more advanced features that can take time to fully learn

Files.com Access a 7-day FREE Trial

2. ExaVault (FREE TRIAL)

ExaVault Home Folders
Clean straightforward dashboard for easy file and access management

ExaVault is a cloud platform that lets you eradicate the need for a file transfer client by sending a link to recipients instead. You upload files to the system with any standard client and then either store the client there or send an access link to others with timed availability before deletion.

Key Features:

  • Cloud-based with storage
  • Link access control
  • User-controlled file permissions
  • Activity logging

Why do we recommend it?

ExaVault is a very similar service to Files.com. It enables you to set up workflow automation and application orchestration as well as providing cloud file storage with separate accounts for each user. Outsiders are invited to share files through an emailed link and colleagues can collaborate and jointly edit files and add comments.

Think of this system as a replacement for FTP clients because, once the file is on the ExaVault platform, there isn’t any need to transfer them any further. A big advantage of this strategy is that it centralizes file storage for multi-site or virtual offices and enables file sharing and distribution among teams. This is a system that you would use to support home-based workers.

ExaVault Link Sharing
Share a link to your file via an email for ease of use

Who is it recommended for?

This system is great for distributed teams and companies that operate a virtual office strategy. You can remove the need for in-house file servers with this tool if all of your employees work from home or are always out on-site.

Pros:

  • Managed file transfer workflows possible for process automation
  • Options to revoke or timeout access rights
  • Central activity logging for data protection standards compliance

Cons:

  • Price list not available, only by request

Get a 30-day free trial of ExaVault.

ExaVault Start 30-day FREE Trial

3. WinSCP

WinSCP
Basic interface with all the necessary options on one screen

WinSCP is a popular file transfer client for Windows, boasting over 114 million downloads. It’s free, extensible, and supports SFTP, FTP(S), SCP, and WebDAV (an extension of HTTP). WinSCP supports drag and drop, a variety of languages, scripting, and includes an integrated text editor.

Key Features:

  • Secure connections
  • Choice of protocols
  • SFTP
  • Command line version for scripting

Why do we recommend it?

WinSCP is a utility for Windows. It is free and very widely used. You can use this system for SFTP as well as for SCP to protect your file transfers. The tool is very easy to use and requires very little training. It is also a small program that is easy to install and doesn’t use much memory.

This software was my go-to SFTP and SCP software for quite some time. The CLI (Command Line Interface), PuTTY integrations, and large user base all help extend how much you can get out of this free software.

Who is it recommended for?

WinSCP is a worthwhile tool for any system administrator. The tool is only available for windows, so if you only run Macs or Linux machines, you will need to look elsewhere for a secure file transfer utility.

Pros:

  • Simple interface – easy to use and lightweight
  • Open-source transparent application
  • Supports a CLI as well as basic GUI

Cons:

  • Only available on Windows
  • Lacks some in-depth text editing features

You can download WinSCP here.

4. SolarWinds Solar-PuTTY

SolarWinds Solar-PuTTY

SolarWinds recently released Solar-PuTTY, a software that takes the popular PuTTY tool and builds it out a bit further to add a more modern GUI and a variety of additional features. I’ll be covering this software in more detail in a piece soon, so we’ll focus on the FTP, SCP, and SFTP features of Solar-PuTTY here.

Key Features:

  • Based on the original PuTTY
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Allows multiple sessions
  • Secure transfers
  • Free to use

Why do we recommend it?

SolarWinds Solar-PuTTY lets you set up connection details for different destinations and then connect to each with the press of a button. This system also provides automation by enabling you to execute scripts on the remote server. Sessions can be secured with SSH and a companion file transfer system implements SFTP. SCP is also available.

In short, this portable software is a useful tool for ad-hoc file transfers. It’s free, supports drag-and-drop transfers, logging, storing credentials and sessions, and more. I’ve been using Solar-PuTTY in place of PuTTY as my go-to SSH client for a bit, and the SFTP client has been a nice plus.

While I can’t say I like Solar-PuTTY’s interface more than WinSCP for SFTP/SCP transfers, the fact it is also an SSH client is a big plus. That and the storing of sessions makes it easy enough for me to use Solar-PuTTY regularly.

Who is it recommended for?

Solar-PuTTY is a nice update of the old PuTTY system that is easy to use and a real time saver for system administrators. This tool is free to use and useful for any technician that works from a Windows PC.

Pros:

  • Intuitive graphical interface features than found in PuTTY
  • Offers secure file transfer protocols such as SCP and SFTP
  • Supports multiple sessions in a way that is easy to manage
  • Free tool – better than most paid options

Cons:

  • While the interface makes it more user-friendly, this is still designed specifically for network professionals, and not home users

If you’re looking for a piece of free Windows software that can serve as a “Swiss Army Knife” type of client tool, give Solar-PuTTY a try for free.

5. JSCAPE MFT

mftserver

JSCAPE MFT is an enterprise-grade SaaS/MFTaaS platform solution that provides a corporate file transfer management service that can control file movement and log all file transfer activities. This package provides a number of secure file transfer protocols, including SFTP. The server unit is a central manager for the entire package and it delivers a client to users through a Web interface.

Key Features:

  • On premises package
  • Web-based client
  • SFTP, SCP, FTPS, and AFTP
  • HTTP, HTTPS, and WebDAV
  • AS2 and OFTP2 for EDI

Why do we recommend it?

JSCAPE MFT is an on-premises controller for all file movement actions. This system uses your existing access rights manager to apply access permissions to movement rights. The system’s Web-based client also offers a file viewer, which removes the need to transfer copies of files. SFTP is just one of the secure protocols that this package can implement.

Jscape MFT Server SFTP

The software for the JSCAPE package installs on Windows, Linux, z/OS, Solaris, AIX, and macOS. That means IBM z Series mainframes can run the system. The functions of the package go beyond a conventional file transfer utility because they include the ability to set up task automation scripts to run on triggers or on a schedule and the tool can also manage EDI transfers.

Other features in the package include the ability to set up a file upload feature in a Web page and a plugin for Microsoft Outlook, which controls and logs the files that are uploaded as attachments. The tool can set up a central store of files that need to be sent out many times, such as sales brochures, and enable automated processes to allow outsiders to access those files.

Who is it recommended for?

The JSCAPE system provides many options for file sharing and data access controls. The package is suitable for businesses that need to follow data protection standards, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, and GDPR. It is a comprehensive package that is best suited to large organizations that have technicians on site to set up and manage task automation and system controls.

Pros:

  • SFTP and other secure file transfer protocols
  • A Web-based file transfer client
  • Process automation
  • Options to integrate file upload or download features in websites
  • Integrates access rights management from LDAP, NTLM, Active Directory, PAM, SSO, and RADIUS

Cons:

  • No public price list.
  • Need to register for a demo and quote

JSCAPE is a comprehensive enterprise-grade file management package that can provide a great deal of task automation. For businesses that don’t want to run the system on their own servers, JSCAPE offers a hosted SaaS/MFTaaS version. You can investigate JSCAPE MFT by requesting a demo.

6. FileZilla

FileZilla Site Manager
I like the ease of use and the large file send capacity

FileZilla is a free and open-source (released under the GNU General Public License) FTP client software for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

FileZilla is a popular and mature FTP client software that supports FTP, FTPS, and SFTP. The “pro” version of FileZilla adds support for WebDAV and a variety of cloud storage providers (Amazon S3, Dropbox, etc.) as well. FileZilla supports drag and drop, transfer of files greater than 4GB, configurable transfer speed limits, and more.

Key Features:

  • Secure file transfer
  • FTPS and SFTP
  • Free to use

Fillezilla SFTP

Why do we recommend it?

FileZilla will run on Macs, and Linux machines as well as Windows PCs. the tool offers a choice between SFTP and FTPS and it will store access credentials for return connections. The standard version is free to use and a paid version is available for transfers to cloud platforms.

One of the most significant benefits of FileZilla is its broad user community. If you are stuck trying to figure things out on your own and run into issues, this could be a handy free resource. You can download the FileZilla client for free here.

One of the criticisms of FileZilla has been that it tries to add “bloatware” during the install. While this is understandable given they are trying to make some money, it can be off-putting to many users.

Who is it recommended for?

FileZilla is a good choice for any system administrator. Technicians who only work with Macs and Linux machines will be glad to have this utility instead of WinSCP.

Pros:

  • Completely free and open-source, viable for any budget
  • Compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac, giving it more flexibility than similar tools
  • Drag-and-drop transfers make this a good option for non-technical users

Cons:

  • Might have bloatware associated with the install
  • No paid support, community drives bug fixes and updates

At the least, FileZilla gives you the ability to opt-out of the additional software during the install process. It is something you should be cognizant of before blindly clicking through the install of this tool.

7. CyberDuck

Cyberduck
I find it pairs well with common cloud-based storage providers

CyberDuck is a free and open-source remote file transfer client with support for a wide variety of protocols and cloud storage providers. CyberDuck is a solid alternative for users looking to move away from FileZilla as it offers many of the same features and the ability to import bookmarks from FileZilla (as well as several other apps).

Key Features:

  • Compatible with cloud storage
  • FTPS and SFTP
  • Free to use

Why do we recommend it?

CyberDuck is a free file transfer tool – there is no paid version. The utility is available for Windows and macOS and it provides a good alternative to the better-known WinSCP and FileZilla. Integrations to cloud platforms, including Azure, AWS, Backblaze, OneDrive, and Google Drive make uploads easy – this is a feature that users of FileZilla have to pay for.

While CyberDuck has a respectable feature set when it comes to protocol support (FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and WebDAV are all supported) and security, what really stood out to me was its support for a wide variety of cloud storage providers. CyberDuck boasts support for Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift, Backblaze B2, Microsoft Azure & OneDrive, Google Drive, DRACOON, and Dropbox.

Cyberduck SFTP

Who is it recommended for?

CyberDuck is a handy free utility that system administrators should have available, especially if their infrastructure includes both on-site and cloud platforms. The system provides SFTP and FTPS.

Pros:

  • Completely free and open-source project
  • Supports multiple transfer protocols such as FTP/S, SFTP, and WebDAV
  • Has a wide variety of integrations into platforms such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon S3, and Azure
  • Offers encrypted credential storage

Cons:

  • Drag and drop features could be improved
  • Default view could be made more user friendly

The GUI doesn’t default to a drag-and-drop “two-pane” view like many other clients, but I had no problem dragging from Windows Explorer into the CyberDuck GUI. You can download CyberDuck for Windows or Mac directly from its home page here.

8. MonstaFTP

MonstaFTP
My network admin audience should have all the necessary privileges to access this browser based FTP client

MonstaFTP is a novel approach to FTP. It is a PHP and Javascript-based app that runs on a website and effectively makes your browser the FTP client. While this means that the network server administrator would need to set it up and therefore it isn’t the ideal solution for everyone, we thought the idea was worth noting here as well.

Key Features:

  • Browser based
  • FTP, SFTP, FTPS, and SCP
  • Free version

Why do we recommend it?

MonstaFTP provides secure file transfers and it is implemented as a PHP function that can be integrated into websites. The tool’s form can be branded. This system is available in free and paid versions and it offers SCP, SFTP, and FTP for secure transfers as well as FTP.

MonstaFTP supports FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and SCP. It enables users to upload .zip files and extract them on the server-side, edit files on-screen, customize the user interface, and rebrand the software. This could be an interesting solution if you are an administrator looking to make life easier for your users. As opposed to making them pick a client on their own (which may come with a non-trivial support burden for you), you can provide the client on the server-side. The ability to drag and drop from Windows Explorer is a nice plus as well.

MonstaFTP SFTP

Who is it recommended for?

MonstaFTP can only be used once it has been integrated into a Web page. Therefore, it isn’t available off the shelf for use by office workers or administrators. It cloud be added to an intranet page by businesses that want to make a file transfer utility available to their staff.

Pros:

  • Runs over the web, meaning no install required
  • Supports multiple protocols like FTP, SFTP and SCP
  • On-screen editing is good for frequent file transfers and workflow efficiency
  • Software can be rebranded – a possible option for MSPs looking to resell the service

Cons:

  • No downloadable version
  • Susceptible to browser exploits if machine is infected

There are lite (free), business ($49/year), and host ($149/year) versions of MonstaFTP available as of this writing. You can download the free version or buy a license here. You can also add a free 45 day Host Edition trial when you download the lite version. If you would like to take it for a test drive before installing, you can demo MonstaFTP from your browser here.

9. Bitvise SSH Client

Bitvise SSH Client
Useful, but skip to the next review if you need to send multiple files simultaneously

The Bitvise SSH Client is a free tool and can be paired with the paid Bitvise SSH Server, but it is will work with any server that has SSH or SFTP capabilities. A nice feature of this package is that you get a secure remote terminal system as well as an SFTP client.

Key Features:

  • Standard SSH settings
  • Encryption options
  • A scripting mechanism

Why do we recommend it?

Unlike many free IT tools, Bitvise SSH Client is regularly updated. It is compatible with Windows 11 and Windows Server 2022, which shows that the utility’s creators are keeping an eye on developments in the world of IT. The Bitvise system can be integrated into workflow automation via a scripting system because transfers and remote sessions can also be launched from the command line.

The SFTP utility in Bitvise SSH Client is straightforward and contains few surprises. It doesn’t include any multi-thread options or simultaneous transfers to multiple remote sites. However, it does provide a continuity mechanism that enables interrupted transfers to be resumed when a broken connection is re-established. It is also possible to pause and resume transfers.

The SFTP client is presented as a graphical user interface for Windows and it provides standard features, such as side-by-side local and remote directory listing, click-to-change directory movements, and drag-and-drop file movement commands.

Bitvise SFTP

It is also possible to use the Bitvise SSH system at the command line. That also provides the opportunity to integrate file transfers and remote script execution into local scripts for task automation. In fact, working with this free tool, you can set up a whole library of task automation scripts for workload automation.

Who is it recommended for?

Anyone could use Bitvise SSH Client for a wide range of tasks. It is a handy utility to have on the computer for ad-hoc remote access or file transfers and administrators that want to put together their own automated processes for managed file transfers or remote device maintenance would be able to use the command line version of the tool. The only restriction that limits the audience for Bitvise SSH Client is that it is only available for Windows and Windows Server.

Pros:

  • Easy-to-use graphical secure file transfer utility
  • Secure remote terminal
  • Scripting system for task automation
  • Free to use

Cons:

  • Only available for Windows

You can download Bitvise SSH Client for free.

10. CoffeeCup Free FTP

CoffeeCup Free FTP
Free to use if you don’t mind the ads

CoffeeCup Free FTP Client is a free FTP, FTPS, and SFTP client for Windows operating systems. In addition to those file transfer protocols, it can also support HTTP. The GUI supports drag and drop, and if you are okay with the ads across the bottom of the window, it is fairly easy to use.

Key Features:

  • FTP, FTPS, and SFTP
  • Good for archiving
  • Ad-supported free version

Why do we recommend it?

As well as being a secure file transfer utility, CoffeeCup Free FTP includes an HTML editor. The tool is only available for Windows and it offers FTPS and SFTP for secure transfers up to or down from a remote site.

The free version of CoffeeCup FTP supports archival, combo bookmarks, historical file information, and more. The paid version of this software, Direct FTP adds features like a built-in code editor with code completion functionality.

Coffeecup Free FTP SFTP

Who is it recommended for?

This tool is ideal for Web developers because of its integrated HTTP editor. Download a file, edit it, and then upload it for testing, all within the CoffeCup environment.

Pros:

  • Offers a built-in text/code editor
  • Is completely free
  • Supports common transfer protocols including over HTTP

Cons:

  • Interface feels outdated
  • Only available for Windows
  • Features advertisements

You can download CoffeeCup Free FTP here. You can purchase Direct FTP here.

11. Progress WS_FTP Pro

Progress WS_FTP Pro
Sets a high bar for encrypted file transfers

Progress (formerly IPswitch offers) a robust WS_FTP Professional Client-side for Windows with a variety of advanced features. According to Progress, this popular file transfer client is trusted by over 40 million users.

Key Features:

  • FTP, FTPS, SFTP, HTTP, and HTTPS
  • Task automation
  • 30-day free trial

Why do we recommend it?

Progress WS_FTP Pro is a secure file transfer client that offers FTPS, SFTP, and HTTPS. This service is a paid system and it can also be used as a file transfer server. The system includes task automation options through the use of scripts and it also allows you to coordinate a local and a remote directory through syncing.

The WS_FTP Professional Client boasts support for a variety of transfer protocols including FTP, FTPS, SFTP, HTTP, and HTTPS. This makes the Progress client software highly extensible. If one protocol doesn’t work, you will not need to immediately jump to another software to get the job done. With many use cases preferring HTTP or HTTPS transfers to FTP or SFTP, the addition of those two protocols is a big plus.

WS_FTP Professional Client also takes security very seriously. 256-bit AES Transport Encryption can secure file transfers, file integrity is validated using a variety of methods including SHA512, PGP file encryption is supported, and the cryptography is FIPS 140-2 validated. These features are a big plus not only for business users looking to remain compliant but also users that place a premium on security.

Another benefit of WS_FTP Professional Client is the ability to automate tasks and back up data. For example, if you want to delete a file from location A after it is transferred to location B, you can automate that process along with the transfer. Similarly, you can schedule and compress backups of important data to a variety of locations including hard drives, network shares, file servers, or Internet hosting services. The synchronization feature helps you keep various directories in sync with one another and can help streamline administration.

Additionally, this software from Progress includes many other premium features that help make this a holistic file transfer client solution. These features include email notifications, unlimited connections, proxy server support, logging, the ability to create and view thumbnails (think WordPress), and more.

Who is it recommended for?

The Progress system is a good option for administrators of WordPress sites and it can also be used to implement ad-hoc transfers to any remote server. The tool can be set up to receive files and it will send you a notification when a new file arrives.

Pros:

  • Utilizes encryption plus file integrity validation to ensure files are not tampered with
  • Offers support overall major protocols including HTTP/S
  • Security features allow the transfer of files that must adhere to compliance standards (HIPAA, PCI, FISA)
  • Offers task automation and file synchronization to suit larger teams

Cons:

  • Has a steeper learning curve than most other FTP clients

Even though it is chock-full of features, I found WS_FTP Professional Client easy enough to get started with. The drag and drop GUI is fairly intuitive and helps you dive right into transferring files. You can download a free trial of the Progress FTP client here.

Alternatively: Use the built-in Linux, Windows, and macOS CLI programs

If you can’t, or don’t want to, install any programs you may be able to get away with the various command-line options available on most modern operating systems. Here we’ll provide a quick overview of what’s available on Linux, macOS, and Windows.

For those of you comfortable with the Linux CLI, the built-in SFTP and FTP programs may be all you need. If you are comfortable with using SSH from a command line, using these two programs should be easy enough. For a primer on SFTP from the Linux CLI, check out this Digital Ocean article.

command line sftp example screenshot

command line ftp example

Given that they are both *nix-based operating systems, the macOS SFTP command-line program is similar to the Linux SFTP program described above. However, beginning with High Sierra, macOS dropped support for plaintext FTP from the command line (check out this Apple discussion for details). If you need CLI plaintext FTP support and are running a newer macOS, installing the open-source inetutils might be the way to go. The command brew install inetutils can be used to install the inetutils suite of tools. Note: inetutils includes a variety of client and server programs, many of which transfer data in plaintext. Consider using an encrypted file transfer method like SFTP or FTPS instead of installing inetutils.

Windows also offers a built-in command-line FTP program you can invoke simply by typing “ftp” at the command prompt. However, there is no such program for SFTP, so you’ll need to install a third-party client tool like PSFTP (from the creators of Putty).

command prompt ftp example

Honorable mentions

There were two client software products that just missed making our list (if you think we should reconsider, let us know in the Comments section below).

Classic FTP is software you may want to consider if you are a Windows Home user who only needs support for FTP and FTPS (SFTP is not supported). Given the context of our list, we decided to leave it off as the freeware version is only available for non-commercial use.

FireFTP is a popular browser that we would have added to our list had Firefox not dropped support. Now FireFTP recommends users leverage the less popular WaterFox browser, so we decided to leave them off. The reasoning behind this decision was not that FireFTP or WaterFox is subpar, just that changing browsers just for FTP support might not be ideal given the availability of alternatives.

Need-to-know: FTP, FTPS, SFTP, SCP & Fish clients

What is FTP?

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is, as the name suggests, a client-server protocol used for transferring files between computers on a network. FTP uses Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) port numbers 20 & 21 by default. FTP enables users to download, upload, view, rename, delete files, and more.

FTP is a relatively old protocol. While this helps explain some of the oddities like using two ports, it also speaks to the maturity of the protocol. The original standard for FTP, RFC 114, was published in 1971. The current standard, RFC 959, was published in 1985.

Connection Modes: Active vs Passive FTP

There are two discrete FTP connection modes: active FTP and passive FTP. With active FTP mode, port 21 is used to send the control commands that dictate what happens during an FTP session. Port 20 is used for the actual transfer of data. In passive FTP mode, an arbitrary port higher than 1023 is used in place of port 20. Slacksite takes an excellent deep dive into the topic of active vs passive FTP if you’re interested in learning more.

Transfer Modes: Binary vs ASCII

There are also two different FTP transfer modes: binary and ASCII.

For text files (i.e. a file that is human-readable with a program like Notepad, vi, or nano), ASCII is recommended. This is because ASCII transfer mode supports character translation between different systems (e.g. conversion of end of line characters). This can be important when transferring scripts.

For non-text files, like JPEG images, binary transfer mode is recommended. This is because the character translation in ASCII mode can corrupt non-text files. If you have ever transferred an image between two computers and it wasn’t viewable on the receiving machine, the root cause may have been the ASCII transfer mode use.

If this gets a little hard to keep up with, don’t worry too much. In most cases, you can just use binary transfer mode and not think about it further.

FTP & SFTP Clients FAQs

Is FTP secure?

In a word, no. FTP sends files and credentials across the network in cleartext. That means data sent using FTP is NOT encrypted.

For this reason, it is often better to use an encrypted transfer method like FTPS (FTP Secure) or SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol).

What is FTPS?

FTPS is effectively FTP with support for TLS (Transport Layer Security) encryption. In the past, FTPS also used SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). SSL is much less common with FTPS today due to a variety of security issues. Using FTPS instead of standard FTP enables you to get the functionality of FTP, plus the benefits of encryption and certificates.

There are two main types of FTPS connections, implicit and explicit. Servers using implicit FTP listen for connections on port 990 instead of port 21. As mentioned by FileZilla, implicit FTPS is a legacy protocol at this point. This means you won’t see implicit FTPS used as much as explicit FTPS these days. Explicit FTPS (a.k.a. FTPES) uses port 21 like standard FTP and enables the client to call for an encrypted connection explicitly.

What is SFTP?

SFTP, rather counterintuitively, is NOT just an encrypted version of the FTP protocol. While it serves the same purpose of transferring and managing files, under the hood SFTP is significantly different from FTP and FTPS. Many of these differences stem from the fact that SFTP sits atop the SSH (Secure Shell) protocol.

One significant difference is the usage of ports. As opposed to using two discrete ports, SFTP uses just one. By default, this port is TCP port 22 (the default SSH port). Using the SSH port has the added benefit of making SFTP generally more “firewall-friendly” and less likely to be blocked by default.

Additionally, SFTP enables users to benefit from the use of SSH private keys. If you are unfamiliar with the benefits of SSH private keys and asymmetric cryptography, check out this article from Digital Ocean. In short, SSH private keys add an additional layer of security to the authentication process.

Personally, I prefer SFTP to FTP/FTPS/FTPES, but there are use case arguments for both. The near-ubiquity of SFTP on most Linux/Unix servers, firewall benefits of using the single port, and the security benefits of leveraging SSH are the reasons for my preference. However, some may make an argument for FTPS based on the specifics of a given environment (e.g. if there are already FTP servers running), support for X.509 certificates, or support for server to server file transfers.

What about SCP and FISH?

If you are researching file transfer protocols, you may have come across SCP (Secure Copy) and FISH (Files Transferred Over Shell Protocol). These two protocols are similar to SFTP in that they use SSH to facilitate the connection (FISH can also use rsh).

SCP is a popular solution that can prove helpful if you simply need to transfer files. However, if you need to list remote directories, create new directories, remove files, or do other administrative tasks, you’ll need to use SFTP or FTP.

FISH is not as widely-used as SCP or SFTP, but may be helpful where resources and the ability to install software on the server-side is highly limited.

Where are FTP & SFTP used?

You can find FTP and SFTP used in a wide variety of use cases. Anytime you need to transfer files from computer A to computer B or manage files on a remote system is a potential use case for SFTP and FTP. Some of the most popular use cases include:

  • Uploading files to Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress.
  • *nix server administration. SFTP is ‘the’ popular choice here.
  • File sharing. Using a protocol like SFTP may be particularly useful to meet compliance requirements (e.g. for SOX, HIPPA, or FIPS).
  • Firmware upgrades. Many devices support firmware upgrades via FTP or SFTP.

Let us know what you think!

Have you tried any of the software tools mentioned in this article? Do you think there is something we left out? Do you have a question about one FTP or SFTP? Let us know in the Comments section below.