SFTP vs FTPS. Choosing the Right Protocol for Your Needs

November 24, 2023,
SFTP vs FTPS image

File transfer protocols like SFTP and FTPS ensure data travels securely over networks. These protocols come from different backgrounds and have unique purposes. SFTP grew from the Secure Shell protocol (SSH). At the same time, FTPS improved the traditional File Transfer Protocol (FTP) by adding an extra layer of protection through Transport Layer Security (TLS). 

Let’s dive into these network protocols and explore the key differences between SFTP vs FTPS.

What is SFTP?

SFTP, or Secure Shell File Transfer Protocol is like a bodyguard for your files. It helps move them safely between computers using a unique language called SSH. SSH has been around since the 1990s and is like a superhero for internet safety. SFTP is an upgraded version of SSH created to make file transfers more secure.

Here are some cool things about SFTP:

  • It only needs one connection to send and receive files.
  • The way it talks is a bit like secret code—binary, not easily readable by humans.
  • It works well with Linux and Unix-based computers.
  • It can control how files move between servers, giving it some superhero powers.

What is FTPS?

Now, let’s talk about FTPS or File Transfer Protocol Secure. It’s like putting an extra lock on an old way of sending files called FTP. FTP has been around since the 1970s, like a grandparent of the internet. But it wasn’t originally built to be super safe.

Some cool things about FTPS:

  • It adds a security layer called TLS to the old FTP to keep files safe during the journey.
  • Unlike SFTP, it needs two primary connections and one extra for data.
  • Humans can easily read the way it talks, making it more understandable.
  • It’s suitable for Windows computers that have FTP servers and can follow special commands.

Check out our article on What is bandwidth in networking?

Differences between SFTP and FTPS:

SFTP, and FTPS; File Transfer Protocol secure are among the unique protocols used in ensuring encrypted data is sent safely from one place to another. The protocols have their own distinct points of origin, functions and areas of application. Now let’s find out the differences between these two protocols, and identify some key features that distinguish them from one another.

ConnectionRequires only one connection to send and receive data.Requires two primary connections and one extra for data.
CommunicationBinary communication, not easily readable by humans.Allows humans to comprehend and read communication.
SuitabilitySuitable for Linux and Unix-based network servers.Suitable for Windows servers that have FTP servers.
Server-to-Server File TransfersSupports server-to-server file transfers with control over file permissions.Permits the execution of a server-to-server file transfer.
SpeedTypically slower due to packet delivery, encryption, and handshaking overhead.Generally has the potential to be faster, designed for optimal speed.
Security FeaturesRelies on SSH keys or passwords for user authentication, encrypts data transmission, ensures integrity checks, and supports server authentication.Adds a layer of security through TLS, supports SSL/TLS with X.509 certificates for robust authentication.

Which is faster, SFTP or FTPS?

Let’s look at the speed between FTPS and SFTP. FTPS generally has the potential to be faster than SFTP. The design of FTPS is geared towards optimising speed, employing separate control and data channels that run asynchronously. This approach aims to achieve the highest data transfer speed possible. In contrast, SFTP operates within a single track, interweaving control packets with the data flow.

However, it’s important to note that, in practice, an SFTP connection often proves noticeably slower than a typical FTP connection. This slowdown occurs because of the additional overhead introduced by packet delivery, encryption, and handshaking inherent in the SFTP protocol. 

While FTPS prioritises speed, both protocols’ actual performance can be subject to influence from network conditions and other variables. Therefore, when deciding between SFTP and FTPS, users should consider speed, security requirements, and specific needs.

SFTP or FTPS? Which is Famous?

FTPS is currently the more dominant protocol and is considered the preferable choice for a broader user base due to its ease of configuration across various platforms. It remains widely used and favoured for its simplicity and compatibility. Despite its security limitations, the straightforward nature of FTP makes it a popular choice for many data transfer needs. Is FTP secure? Yes, despite its security limitations, it remains widely used.

On the other hand, SFTP is gaining traction, especially in more recent devices and software. The SSH keys SFTP use enhance security but come with added complexity in management and validation. As a result, users who don’t specifically require the advanced security features provided by SSH keys often lean towards FTP due to its simplicity and widespread compatibility.

The choice between FTPS (Secure FTP) and SFTP often depends on the user’s specific needs, security requirements, and the platforms they work with. While FTPS is the go-to option for its simplicity and wide-ranging support, SFTP is becoming more dominant, especially in environments where additional security features are crucial.


Selecting between SFTP and FTPS depends on organisational requirements, considering inherent security, transfer speeds, compatibility, and command control. While SFTP is known for its intrinsic safety but slower speeds, FTPS provides faster transfers but is associated with legacy protocols.

Many organisations combine both, leveraging Managed File Transfer (MFT) solutions to integrate various protocols for a comprehensive and flexible file transfer solution. Please note that when using these protocols, you must know which FTPS port you use, which can impact your connection.

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