10.7. SFTP / SCP Usage

10.7.1. Introduction

This page contains information about using the SFTP / SCP file transfer service.

Both SFTP and SCP operate over the Secure Shell (SSH) cryptographic network protocol version 2. Only SSH version 2 is supported by SFTPPlus.

The SCP implementation is based on reverse-engineering the scp command tool provided by the OpenSSH project.

The SFTP implementation is based on the SSH File Transfer Protocol Draft 3 draft-ietf-secsh-filexfer-3 specification.

The SFTP and SCP protocols are layered on top of the generic SSH protocol for which the general architecture is described in RFC 4251

The following authentication methods are supported, as specified in RFC 4252 : password and publickey.

10.7.2. File open mode

The SFTP protocol is more like a remote file system protocol and does not provide high level commands for file upload or download. Instead, it provides a wide range of primitive operations for remote files like open, read, write and close commands.

When a file is opened or closed, the emitted event contains the opening mode of the file. The following modes are possible:

  • reading

  • reading with append

  • writing

  • writing with append

  • reading and writing

  • reading and writing with append

To help filtering the common operations, which are read and write, dedicated event IDs are emitted when the file is closed while being opened in read-only or write-only mode.

10.7.3. SSH Key Authentication

SFTPPlus supports SSH key authentication by reading SSH public keys in OpenSSH format.

SSH keys are composed of the following 2 parts:

  • public

  • private

The server only needs to know about the public part of a SSH key. As the name suggests, the public part can be shared with anyone and does not require to be kept secret. You can send it over unsecured communication channels like email (SMTP) or HTTP.

The OpenSSH public key is defined in the following format:

  • KEY-TYPE can be ssh-dsa or ssh-rsa

  • KEY-COMMENT is an optional text and needs to be placed on the same line.


ssh-rsa AAAAB3_CONTENT_OF_THE_KEY_OqLrL8bfLCu/ description

The private part should always stay on the client side and never be sent to the server or to other parties. In terms of protecting the private part, you should follow the same procedures as for a plain text password.

Example of unencrypted OpenSSH private key:


To improve security while moving private SSH keys, there is the option to encrypt them, using a password. Note that the password is only used for storing the key on disk. When the key is used by an SSH application, it needs to be decrypted first.

For non-interactive SSH applications (e.g. SSH / SFTP / SCP server or automated SSH / SFTP / SCP client), where there is no person to type the password from memory, in order for the application to read the key, it needs access to the plain text password. Since the password is stored together with the associated encrypted key, this leads to the same security level as the unencrypted key.

Example of encrypted OpenSSH private key:

Proc-Type: 4,ENCRYPTED
DEK-Info: AES-128-CBC,BCD9AB5C68DD1924FF2A1A54BE2A7BF4


In a secure environment, the client will generate the private and public keys on the same machine which uses them, and it will send only the public part to the server. This way, the private part never leaves the machine on which it is used, greatly reducing the risk of revealing the key.

Putty Key format (.PPK) and RFC 4716 format are not directly supported, but you can use the SSH key conversion tools provided by the Web Manager to convert those keys into OpenSSH public key format.

Further details on configuring SSH key-based authentication on the server is available.

10.7.4. User password change

You can configure an account to allow updating its own password. When enabled, the user can change its password over the SSH protocol using the passwd command.

To change its password, a user must provide the current password.

When changing the password, both current and new passwords are provided in text format.

The SCP and SFTP protocols do not provide a standard method for changing a password. The password is changed using the exec request of the SSH protocol.

Once the process to change the password is finalized, the SSH connection is closed.

The password can be changes using any SSH client by invoking the command without requesting pseudo-terminal allocation (tty allocation).

Here is an example of changing the current password correcthorsebatterystaple to new password Ltime@go-inag~faaa!, for user johnd using the OpenSSH command from Linux:

$ ssh passwd
Current password: correcthorsebatterystaple
New password: Ltime@go-inag~faaa!
Confirm new password: Ltime@go-inag~faaa!
Password successfully updated.
$ echo $?

If the password was successfully updated, the SSH client process will be terminated with exit code 0 (zero). If the password fails to be updated, the SSH client process exits with a non-zero exit code.

On Windows, you can change the password using PuTTY's plink command. Below is an example in which changing the password fails and the process ends with exit code 1:

> plink -t user@localhost passwd
Current password: some-password
New password: new-password
Confirm new password: new-password
Failed to update password.


The password cannot contain leading or trailing space or tab characters.

10.7.5. Transfer performance

The SFTP/SCP/SSH protocols are less efficient at bulk data transfer, when compared to FTPS or HTTPS. In SSH every block of data transferred requires an acknowledgment from the other peer.

Clients like WinSCP, Filezilla, or PuTTY are exchanging data using 32 parallel requests, each request exchanging 4Kbytes blocks at a time. OpenSSH SFTP CLI uses by default 64 parallel requests, each at 32Kbytes.

By using WinSCP, Filezilla, or Putty you can expect transfer speed of up to 7MB/s. When using OpenSSH SFTP command line client, you can expect transfer speed of up to 12MB/s.

We are working to improve the speed of our SSH/SFTP implementation. In the near future, you can expect transfer speeds of 65MB/s.

The benchmark for SFTP transfer is the OpenSSH SFTP implementation which can transfer at 170MB/s over the localhost with files stored on a fast SSD.

SFTPPlus performance falls behind the OpenSSH implementation. OpenSSH is a product targeted to Unix systems and focused on the SSH/SFTP protocol. SFTPPlus runs on Unix and Windows and support multiple file transfer protocols like HTTPS and FTPS.

Beside the actual file transfer, SFTPPlus provides detailed audit logs, like the name of the user performing an operation, duration of transfer and overall transfer speed.

10.7.6. Load Balancer

The SFTP/SCP services of SFTPPlus can be part of a load balancing solution.

SFTPPlus requires no extra configuration for SFTP/SCP services when using a layer 4 TCP balancer or a DNS load balancer.

AWS Network Load Balancer and Azure Load Balancer are examples of layer 4 load balancers.

You can't use the SFTP/SCP service with an HTTP Layer 7 load balancer.