The ETL (extract, transform, load) process depends on quickly, efficiently, and securely transferring information between sources and targets. However, there are multiple options for data transfer protocols, including FTP and its close relative SFTP.

So what’s the difference between FTP and SFTP, and how can you decide which one to use for your enterprise data? We have all the answers below.

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What is FTP?

First introduced in 1971, FTP (File Transfer Protocol) remains a popular communication protocol for transferring files and data between two machines on the same network. FTP can transfer many file types, including plaintext, images, CSV files, JSON files, and other flat file databases.

The FTP process is as follows: files first upload to the FTP server and then move to the FTP host via the TCP/IP networking protocol. Finally, the recipient downloads the files to their local machine. The FTP standard defines four different data types: the ASCII and EBCDIC character encodings for text; image files; and a “local” type that may have a number of bits other than 8 in a single byte.

Related Reading: The Complete Guide to FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and SCP

What is SFTP?

The traditional FTP protocol does not encrypt the data it transfers; it sends information in plaintext. SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) came to fruition in the late 1990s as a more secure alternative to traditional FTP. More specifically, SFTP uses the SSH protocol to encrypt and decrypt data transfers.

By adding encryption on top of FTP, SFTP has become the data transfer protocol of choice for businesses concerned about the security of their information. In particular, SFTP encryption helps organizations comply with data security and data privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which all place restrictions on the use of personal data.

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The features of SFTP include:

  • Single-channel data transfer (as opposed to FTP, which uses two channels: a command channel and a data channel)
  • Authentication via public keys or username and password
  • Support for IPv6 and TMUX

SFTP is not to be confused with FTPS, another evolution of the FTP protocol to enhance data security when transferring files. FTPS inserts an SSL/TLS layer to encrypt data when moving between the source and destination. Other secure protocols for data transfer include HTTPS and SCP.

Related Reading: How to Use SFTP to Securely Transfer Files

FTP vs. SFTP: What’s the Difference?

The main technical difference between FTP vs. SFTP is that SFTP includes the SSH encryption protocol, while FTP transfers data in plaintext. This difference also has important repercussions for how FTP and SFTP work in practice. Below are some of the most important points of distinction between FTP and SFTP.

Because it lacks the overhead of data encryption, FTP is (slightly) quicker and simpler than SFTP. However, organizations usually find that the additional security precautions of SFTP are worth the price of this additional overhead unless the data involved is already publicly available.

FTP can increase the risk of non-compliance since you can still be non-compliant in SFTP if you mishandle the data. Noncompliance with relevant laws and regulations could place your organization at risk of a data breach, and/or result in fines and other penalties.

How Xplenty Can Help with SFTP

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SFTP is usually the right choice over FTP, especially for transferring sensitive and confidential data. But how can you actually bring SFTP into your data integration workflow?

Xplenty is an ETL tool that comes with over 100 pre-built connectors and integrations, including SFTP. With Xplenty’s simple drag-and-drop interface, it’s never been easier to create robust, enterprise-grade data pipelines between your sources and your target data warehouse or data lake in the Cloud.

Related Reading: SFTP ETL to your warehouse

Want to learn more about using SFTP and Xplenty? Check out our article on creating an SFTP connection in Xplenty with just a few clicks. You can also schedule a call with our team of data integration experts to discuss your business goals and requirements, or get started right away with your 14-day pilot of the Xplenty platform.