When transferring data, especially in the context of Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL), the choice of protocol matters. Both SFTP and FTP provide solutions, but their intrinsic differences could greatly influence the outcome in terms of security and functionality. Here's everything you need to know about SFTP vs. FTP for ETL.

Here are the 5 key differences between SFTP vs. FTP:

  • FTP, being traditional, moves data between an FTP client and a web server. SFTP, on the other hand, uses a secure channel for this transfer.
  • While FTP relies on the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) network, SFTP utilizes the SSH File Transfer Protocol.
  • SFTP encrypts data in transit, significantly reducing the risk of data interception by malicious entities.
  • Unlike FTP, which uses two channels for file transfer, SFTP operates on a single channel.
  • SFTP offers authentication using SSH keys or a combination of username and password, enhancing its security credentials.

In this article, we'll unravel the contrasts between SFTP and FTP, emphasizing their operational intricacies and the implications for your ETL processes.

Table of Contents

Importance of File Transfer Protocols

The seamless flow of information forms the backbone of our interconnected world. Whether it's a multinational corporation sharing data across continents or an individual sending personal files to a friend, efficient and secure data transfer is paramount. File Transfer Protocols, like FTP and SFTP, are the unsung heroes in this process. They not only ensure that data gets from one point to another but also dictate the speed, efficiency, and safety of these transfers. In environments where sensitive data is involved, such as medical records or financial transactions, the choice of protocol can have profound implications. It can mean the difference between a secure transaction and a potential data breach. Thus, understanding and wisely choosing the right protocol becomes crucial.

What is FTP?

FTP stands for file transfer protocolInvented in 1971, FTP transfers files from one computer to another computer via TCP/IP, the communication protocols that connect network devices on the internet. The process is relatively straightforward: One computer user grants another computer user access to receive files from the FTP server (or "host"). The recipient receives the shared files pretty quickly.

Note: Don't confuse FTP for FTPS (Secure FTP or FTP/SSL). FTPS, or File Transfer Protocol Secure, is a variant of FTP that adds a layer of security. Unlike regular FTP, which transmits data in plain text, FTPS employs SSL/TLS protocols to encrypt the data during transfer. This encryption makes FTPS a middle ground between FTP and SFTP. While both SFTP and FTPS provide encrypted transfers, they use different methods and protocols. SFTP relies on SSH, while FTPS (File Transfer Protocol Secure) uses an SSL/TLS layer underneath traditional FTP and encrypts its data channels. (Regular FTP does none of these things.) When considering security, it's essential to understand that while FTPS enhances FTP by adding encryption, SFTP is an entirely different protocol designed with security in mind from the outset.

Recommended readingFTPS ETL to Your Warehouse

What is SFTP?

SFTP stands for secure file transfer protocol. Introduced in the late '90s, it provides an alternative to the conventional FTP protocol. SFTP doesn't use TCP/IP, like FTP, but transfers files from one computer to another computer via SSH, a client-server-based network protocol.

SSH lets a computer user that sends files to another computer user control the recipient's device like a local computer. The recipient's device (called the "client") must connect to an SSH server. The SSH process is like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) but uses commands to execute data connections.

Recommended reading: SFTP ETL to Your Warehouse

Key Features of FTP and SFTP

Features of FTP:

  • Uses TCP/IP communication protocols for data transfer.
  • Supports three data representations: 8-binary data, ASCII (7-Bit), and EBCDIC (8-Bit).
  • Transfers files via three transmission modes: Block, stream, and compressed.
  • Allows uploading and downloading of files to and from the FTP server.
  • Utilizes two channels for data transmission.

Features of SFTP:

  • Uses the SSH network protocol for data transfer.
  • Encrypts data during transfer, ensuring a higher level of security.
  • Operates through a single channel for data transmission.
  • Supports both username/password and public key authentication methods.
  • Allows command execution and enhanced functionalities for uploading and downloading files.

Pros and Cons of FTP vs. SFTP

Pros of FTP and SFTP


  • Simple and quick way to transfer files.
  • Capability to transfer multiple directories simultaneously.
  • Time-tested and widely understood due to its long-standing history.


  • Enhanced security through data encryption during transfers.
  • Utilizes a single channel, reducing potential security vulnerabilities.
  • Offers authentication methods using cryptographic SSH keys or username/password.
  • Firewall-friendly nature makes it compatible with many network configurations.
  • Platform-agnostic – compatible with Windows, Mac, and other operating systems.

Cons of FTP and SFTP


  • Lacks robust security measures, making it difficult to comply with frameworks like GDPR and CCPA. If data transfer is not secure, you risk penalties for data governance non-compliance. 
  • The use of two channels can introduce security vulnerabilities, increasing the risk of hackers accessing sensitive data.
  • Not in compliance with many modern security standards and regulations.


  • Some users find it initially challenging to manage SSH keys and set up the SFTP client.
  • Overhead due to encryption might slightly impact transfer speeds.


In the debate between FTP and SFTP for data transfer, two key aspects stand out: security and compliance. SFTP emerges as the superior choice for its robust security features, powered by the Secure Shell. Its encryption ensures that data remains protected, mirroring the safety provided by protocols like SSL. This enhanced security means that data transferred to your warehouse remains shielded from potential hackers, reducing the risk of costly government penalties tied to data governance frameworks.

While FTP has its merits, the comprehensive benefits of SFTP are hard to overlook. Unlike FTP, SFTP encrypts data during transit, minimizing unauthorized access. This is especially important considering SFTP's use of a singular channel for transfer, as opposed to FTP's dual channels, further bolstering its security. Additionally, SFTP offers versatile authentication methods, including private keys or the traditional username and password. In essence, for those prioritizing a consistently secure connection, SFTP is the unequivocal choice.

How Integrate.io Can Help


Embracing the SFTP protocol for data transfers elevates your ETL processes to a realm of enhanced security and efficiency. Once you decide to transfer files via the SFTP protocol, an ETL solution like Integrate.io proves useful. As a comprehensive ETL solution, Integrate.io not only supports but accentuates your endeavors with SFTP. Our platform is tailored to seamlessly execute the ETL process, ensuring secure data transfers from origin to destination.

Beyond just support, Integrate.io enhances SFTP-driven ETL workflows. Whether it's transferring files to data warehouses, interfacing with algorithm tools, or collaborating with analytics platforms, our platform provides an intuitive, no-code solution. This ensures that even those unfamiliar with intricate programming can benefit from optimized, secure, and efficient data transfers.

But don't just take our word for it, try the platform out for yourself with a 14-day free trial that lets you explore the full spectrum of our features. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, schedule a free demo with one of our experts. It's an opportunity to ask questions, get insights, and visualize how Integrate.io can be the cornerstone of your data-driven projects.

Learn more about how Integrate.io benefits ETL with SFTP