FTP vs FTPS vs SFTP hosting: the key differences demystified

Over the years, many of us have routinely come across references to both File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), without necessarily being informed on the distinctions between the two. Whilst FTP and FTPS use the same underlying commands, SFTP is actually an entirely different protocol.


FTP was one of the early methods used for file transfer, and brought considerable ease to the process of sharing data files between two computers. Later updates to FTP brought the ability to wrap FTP in SSL/TLS encryption to provide a secure encrypted method for communication, this is known as FTPS. Think of this in the same way as connecting securely to a website over the HTTPS protocol (https://).

FTPS (the encrypted version of FTP) comes with two options for encrypted communication. The first being "Explicit FTPS" where the client side specifically requests encryption when it connects to the server on the standard FTP port (21). If you are technical and have looked at logs you may see the "STARTTLS" command from the client in the session which tells the server to start an encrypted session. The other option is "Implicit FTPS" where a dedicated port is provided by the server for encrypted connections and client software can connect to that specifically.

In reality, most client software using FTPS (such as FileZilla) will default to port 21 and try the FTPS Explicit connection first and can then provide an option to fail back to plain/standard FTP if encryption is not available to provide backward compatibility. Ridgeon Network provides encryption by default, but can provide an option for plain FTP if you have a specific backward-compatibility requirement for legacy systems.


SFTP is common in newer implementations of software/clients/services that are moving files. It uses a single port (usually 22) for all communications and data transfer. Like FTPS, it is a widely used and compatible protocol without requiring additional vendor-specific software. SFTP is always encrypted by default.

Most Linux operating systems support SFTP by default when SSH Server is enabled as SFTP is a subsystem of SSH. Whilst it is easy to connect to remote SFTP servers from Windows using FileZilla, WinSCP, PowerShell and other clients, it is not common for Windows servers to be able to run an SFTP server to accept SFTP connections. Ridgeon Network provides both as part of our Secure FTP hosting solutions.

We provide an all-in-one SFTP and FTPS Hosting solution!

Ridgeon Network's Secure FTP Hosting supports SFTP and FTPS for all customers and users. We also provide the ability to customise the availability of protocols, ciphers and ports if you have specific security requirements.

When you're seeking a complete Secure FTP hosting package, why should Ridgeon Network be your choice?

The great news is that with our data storage / Secure FTP Hosting services, you really don't have to choose between FTP/FTPS and SFTP hosting solutions - you can have one hosting package that can accept both. You do not need two servers, and you do not need to maintain two sets of users. Our own Secure FTP hosting packages here at Ridgeon Network not only support both main file transfer protocols but you can also connect via a web interface over a secure HTTPS connection in your web browser. This means that users have a friendly and secure interface to use if they are not familiar with FTP/SFTP software.

When you choose Ridgeon Network for your SFTP hosting, FTPS hosting or other hosted services, you get the reassurance of a UK-based business, ISO27001, ISO9001 and Cyber Essentials certification. We provide telephone and email support as standard and if you have custom requirements or need help designing a full solution or solving a problem, we'll be happy to talk it through with you.

Many of our clients use additional services from us to compliment their SFTP Hosting package, these include UK-based server hosting, custom development, automation & scripts and data processing. For a more targeted discussion with us as to how we can best serve your full range of needs, please don't hesitate to contact the UK-based Ridgeon Network team today.

About the author: Chris, Director at Ridgeon Network

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