How to Use Linux SFTP Command to Transfer Files

SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) is a secure file protocol used to access, manage, and transfer files over an encrypted SSH transport.

When compared with the traditional FTP protocol, SFTP offers all the functionality of FTP, and it is easier to configure.

Unlike the scp command, which only allows file transfers, the sftp command allows you to perform a range of operations on remote files and resume file transfers.

In this tutorial, we will show you how to use the Linux sftp command.

Before you Begin

To be able to transfer and manage files via SFTP you must have write permission on the remote system.

When transferring large files, it is recommended to run the sftp command inside a screen or tmux session.

The directory from where you run the sftp command is the local working directory.

Establishing an SFTP connection

SFTP works on a client-server model. It is a subsystem of SSH and supports all SSH authentication mechanisms.

Although the traditional password authentication is set up by default and easier to use, if you regularly connect to your server via SSH/SFTP it is recommended to create SSH keys and set up a passwordless SFTP login.

To open an SFTP connection to a remote system, use the sftp command followed by the remote server username and the IP address or domain name:

sftp [email protected]_ip_or_hostname

If you are connecting to a host using password authentication you will be prompted to enter the user password.

Once connected, you will be presented with the sftp prompt, and you can start interacting with the remote machine:

Connected to [email protected]_ip_or_hostname.

If the remote SSH server is not listening on the default port 22, use the -oPort option to specify the alternate port:

sftp -oPort=custom_port [email protected]_ip_or_hostname

SFTP Commands

Most of the SFTP commands are similar or identical to the commands you would use in the Linux shell prompt.

You can get a list of all available SFTP commands by typing help or ?.

Available commands:
bye                                Quit sftp
cd path                            Change remote directory to 'path'
version                            Show SFTP version
!command                           Execute 'command' in local shell
!                                  Escape to local shell
?                                  Synonym for help

Navigating with SFTP

When you are logged in to the remote server, your current working directory is the remote user home directory. You can check that by typing:

Remote working directory: /home/remote_username

To list the files and directories use the ls command:


To navigate to another directory, use the cd command. For example, to switch to the /tmpdirectory you would type:

cd /tmp

The above commands are used to navigate and work on the remote location.

The sftp shell also provides commands for local navigation, information and file management. The local commands are prefixed with the letter l.

For example, to print the local working directory, you would type:

cd lpwd
Local working directory: /home/local_username

Transferring Files with SFTP

With SFTP you can transfer files securely between two machines.

If you are working on a desktop machine, you can use a GUI SFTP client like WinSCP or FileZilla to connect to the remote server and download or upload files.

The sftp command is useful when you work on a server without GUI, and you want to transfer files or perform other operations on the remote files.

Downloading Files with the SFTP Command

Once you are logged in to the remote server, your current working directory is the remote user home directory.

When downloading files with the sftp command, the files are downloaded to the directory from which you typed the sftp command.

To download a single file from the remote server, use the get command:


The output should look something like this:

Fetching /home/remote_username/ to
/home/remote_username/                           100%   24MB   1.8MB/s   00:13

If you want to save the downloaded file with a different name, specify the new name as the second argument:


To download a directory from the remote system, use the recursive -r option:

get -r remote_directory

If a file transfer fails or is interrupted, you can resume it using the reget command.

The syntax of reget is the same as the syntax of get:


Uploading Files with the SFTP Command

To upload a file from the local machine to the remote SFTP server, use the put command:


The output should look something like this:

Uploading to /home/remote_username/                          100%   12MB   1.7MB/s   00:06

If the file you want to upload is not located in your current working directory, use the absolute path to the file.

When working with put you can use the same options that are available with the getcommand.

To upload a local directory, you would type:

put -r locale_directory

To resume an interrupted upload:


File Manipulations with SFTP

Typically, to perform tasks on a remote server you would connect to it via SSH and do your work using the shell terminal. However, in some situations, the user may have only SFTP access to the remote server.

SFTP allows you to perform some basic file manipulation commands. Below are some examples of how to use the SFTP shell:

  • Get information about the remote system’s disk usage:

            Size         Used        Avail       (root)    %Capacity
        20616252      1548776     18002580     19067476           7%
  • Create a new directory on the remote server:

    mkdir directory_name
  • Rename a file on the remote server:

    rename file_name new_file_name
  • Delete a file on the remote server:

    rm file_name
  • Delete a directory on the remote server:

    rmdir directory_name
  • Change the permissions of a file on the remote system:

    chmod 644 file_name
  • Change the owner of a file on the remote system:

    chown user_id file_name

    You must supply the user ID to the chown and chgrp commands.

  • Change the group owner of a remote file with:

    chgrp group_id file_name

Once you are done with your work, close the connection by typing bye or quit.


In this tutorial, we have shown you how to use the sftp command to download and upload files to your remote SFTP server.

You may also want to set up an SSH key-based authentication and connect to your Linux servers without entering a password.

If you are regularly connecting to the same systems, you can simplify your workflow by defining all of your connections in the SSH config file.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or feedback.

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