How to Setup FTP Server with VSFTPD on Ubuntu 18.04

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Setup FTP Server with VSFTPD on Ubuntu

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a standard network protocol used to transfer files to and from a remote network.

There are many open-source FTP servers available for Linux. The most popular and widely used are PureFTPd , ProFTPD , and vsftpd . In this tutorial, we’ll be installing vsftpd (Very Secure Ftp Daemon). It is a stable, secure and fast FTP server. We will also show you how to configure vsftpd to restrict users to their home directory and encrypt the entire transmission with SSL/TLS.

Although this tutorial is written for Ubuntu 18.04 the same instructions apply for Ubuntu 16.04 and any Debian based distribution, including Debian, Linux Mint and Elementary OS.

For more secure and faster data transfers, use SCP or SFTP .


Before continuing with this tutorial, make sure you are logged in as a user with sudo privileges .

Installing vsftpd on Ubuntu 18.04

The vsftpd package is available in the Ubuntu repositories. To install it, simply run the following commands:

sudo apt updatesudo apt install vsftpd

vsftpd service will automatically start after the installation process is complete. Verify it by printing the service status:

sudo systemctl status vsftpd

The output will look something like below, showing that the vsftpd service is active and running:

* vsftpd.service - vsftpd FTP server
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/vsftpd.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Mon 2018-10-15 03:38:52 PDT; 10min ago
 Main PID: 2616 (vsftpd)
    Tasks: 1 (limit: 2319)
   CGroup: /system.slice/vsftpd.service
           `-2616 /usr/sbin/vsftpd /etc/vsftpd.conf

Configuring vsftpd

The vsftpd server can be configured by editing the /etc/vsftpd.conf file. Most of the settings are well documented inside the configuration file. For all available options visit the official vsftpd page.

In the following sections, we will go over some important settings needed to configure a secure vsftpd installation.

Start by opening the vsftpd configuration file:

sudo nano /etc/vsftpd.conf

1. FTP Access

We’ll allow access to the FTP server only the local users, find the anonymous_enable and local_enable directives and verify your configuration match to lines below:


2. Enabling uploads

Uncomment the write_enable setting to allow changes to the filesystem such as uploading and deleting files.


3. Chroot Jail

To prevent the FTP users to access any files outside of their home directories uncomment the chroot setting.


By default to prevent a security vulnerability, when chroot is enabled vsftpd will refuse to upload files if the directory that the users are locked in is writable.

Use one of the methods below to allow uploads when chroot is enabled.

  • Method 1. - The recommended method to allow upload is to keep chroot enabled, and configure FTP directories. In this tutorial, we will create an ftp directory inside the user home which will serve as the chroot and a writable uploads directory for uploading files.

  • Method 2. - Another option is to add the following directive in the vsftpd configuration file. Use this option if you must to grant writable access to your user to its home directory.


4. Passive FTP Connections

vsftpd can use any port for passive FTP connections. We’ll specify the minimum and maximum range of ports and later open the range in our firewall.

Add the following lines to the configuration file:


5. Limiting User Login

To allow only certain users to log in to the FTP server add the following lines at the end of the file:


When this option is enabled you need to explicitly specify which users are able to log in by adding the user names to the /etc/vsftpd.user_list file (one user per line).

6. Securing Transmissions with SSL/TLS

In order to encrypt the FTP transmissions with SSL/TLS, you’ll need to have an SSL certificate and configure the FTP server to use it.

You can use an existing SSL certificate signed by a trusted Certificate Authority or create a self-signed certificate.

If you have a domain or subdomain pointing to the FTP server’s IP address you can easily generate a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate.

We will generate a self-signed SSL certificate using the openssl command.

The following command will create a 2048-bit private key and self signed certificate valid for 10 years. Both the private key and the certificate will be saved in a same file:

sudo openssl req -x509 -nodes -days 3650 -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout /etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem -out /etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem

Once the SSL certificate is created open the vsftpd configuration file:

sudo nano /etc/vsftpd.conf

Find the rsa_cert_file and rsa_private_key_file directives, change their values to the pam file path and set the ssl_enable directive to YES:


If not specified otherwise, the FTP server will use only TLS to make secure connections.

Restart the vsftpd Service

Once you are done editing, the vsftpd configuration file (excluding comments) should look something like this:


Save the file and restart the vsftpd service for changes to take effect:

sudo systemctl restart vsftpd

Opening the Firewall

If you are running an UFW firewall you’ll need to allow FTP traffic.

To open port 21 (FTP command port), port 20 (FTP data port) and 30000-31000 (Passive ports range), run the following commands:

sudo ufw allow 20:21/tcpsudo ufw allow 30000:31000/tcp

To avoid being locked out, open the port 22:

sudo ufw allow OpenSSH

Reload the UFW rules by disabling and re-enabling UFW:

sudo ufw disablesudo ufw enable

To verify the changes run:

sudo ufw status
Status: active

To                         Action      From
--                         ------      ----
20:21/tcp                  ALLOW       Anywhere
30000:31000/tcp            ALLOW       Anywhere
OpenSSH                    ALLOW       Anywhere
20:21/tcp (v6)             ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)
30000:31000/tcp (v6)       ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)
OpenSSH (v6)               ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)

Creating FTP User

To test our FTP server we will create a new user.

  • If you already have a user which you want to grant FTP access skip the 1st step.
  • If you set allow_writeable_chroot=YES in your configuration file skip the 3rd step.
  1. Create a new user named newftpuser:

    sudo adduser newftpuser
  2. Add the user to the allowed FTP users list:

    echo "newftpuser" | sudo tee -a /etc/vsftpd.user_list
  3. Create the FTP directory tree and set the correct permissions :

    sudo mkdir -p /home/newftpuser/ftp/uploadsudo chmod 550 /home/newftpuser/ftpsudo chmod 750 /home/newftpuser/ftp/uploadsudo chown -R newftpuser: /home/newftpuser/ftp

    As discussed in the previous section the user will be able to upload its files to the ftp/upload directory.

At this point, your FTP server is fully functional and you should be able to connect to your server using any FTP client that can be configured to use TLS encryption such as FileZilla .

Disabling Shell Access

By default, when creating a user, if not explicitly specified the user will have SSH access to the server.

To disable shell access, we will create a new shell which will simply print a message telling the user that their account is limited to FTP access only.

Create the /bin/ftponly shell and make it executable:

echo -e '#!/bin/sh\necho "This account is limited to FTP access only."' | sudo tee -a  /bin/ftponlysudo chmod a+x /bin/ftponly

Append the new shell to the list of valid shells in the /etc/shells file:

echo "/bin/ftponly" | sudo tee -a /etc/shells

Change the user shell to /bin/ftponly:

sudo usermod newftpuser -s /bin/ftponly

Use the same command to change the shell of all users you want to give only FTP access.


In this tutorial, you learned how to install and configure a secure and fast FTP server on your Ubuntu 18.04 system.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.