How to Setup FTP Server with VSFTPD on Ubuntu 20.04
6 min read
This article describes how to install and configure an FTP server on Ubuntu 20.04 that you use to share files between your devices.
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a standard network protocol used to transfer files to and from a remote network. There are several open-source FTP servers available for Linux. The most known and widely used are PureFTPd , ProFTPD , and vsftpd . We’ll be installing vsftpd (Very Secure Ftp Daemon), a stable, secure, and fast FTP server. We will also show you how to configure the server to restrict users to their home directory and encrypt the entire transmission with SSL/TLS.
Although FTP is a very popular protocol, for more secure and faster data transfers, you should use SCP or SFTP .
Installing vsftpd on Ubuntu 20.04
The vsftpd package is available in the Ubuntu repositories. To install it, execute the following commands:
sudo apt update
sudo apt install vsftpd
The ftp service will automatically start once the installation process is complete. To verify it, print the service status:
sudo systemctl status vsftpd
The output should show 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 Tue 2021-03-02 15:17:22 UTC; 3s ago ...
The vsftpd server configuration is stored in the
Most of the server settings are well documented inside the file. For all available options, visit the vsftpd documentation 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 to the local users. Search for the
local_enable directives and verify your configuration match to lines below:
2. Enabling uploads
Locate and uncomment the
write_enable directive to allow filesystem changes, such as uploading and removing files:
3. Chroot jail
To prevent local FTP users to access files outside of their home directories, uncomment the lne starting with
By default, for security reasons, 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 solutions below to allow uploads when chroot is enabled:
Method 1. - The recommended option is to keep the chroot feature enabled and configure FTP directories. In this example, we will create an
ftpdirectory inside the user home, which will serve as the chroot and a writable
uploadsdirectory for uploading files:/etc/vsftpd.conf
Method 2. - Another option is to enable the
Use this option only if you must grant writable access to your user to its home directory.
4. Passive FTP Connections
By default, vsftpd uses active mode. To use passive mode, set the minimum and maximum range of ports:
You can use any port for passive FTP connections. When the passive mode is enabled, the FTP client opens a connection to the server on a random port in the range you have chosen.
5. Limiting User Login
You can configure vsftpd to permit only certain users to log in. To do so, add the following lines at the end of the file:
userlist_enable=YES userlist_file=/etc/vsftpd.user_list userlist_deny=NO
When this option is enabled, you need to explicitly specify which users can log in by adding the user names to the
/etc/vsftpd.user_list file (one user per line).
6. Securing Transmissions with SSL/TLS
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 quickly generate a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate.
We will generate a 2048-bit private key and self-signed SSL certificate that will be valid for ten years:
sudo openssl req -x509 -nodes -days 3650 -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout /etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem -out /etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem
Both the private key and the certificate will be saved in the same file.
Once the SSL certificate is created open the vsftpd configuration file:
sudo nano /etc/vsftpd.conf
rsa_private_key_file directives, change their values to the
pam file path and set the
ssl_enable directive to
rsa_cert_file=/etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem rsa_private_key_file=/etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem ssl_enable=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:
listen=NO listen_ipv6=YES anonymous_enable=NO local_enable=YES write_enable=YES dirmessage_enable=YES use_localtime=YES xferlog_enable=YES connect_from_port_20=YES chroot_local_user=YES secure_chroot_dir=/var/run/vsftpd/empty pam_service_name=vsftpd rsa_cert_file=/etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem rsa_private_key_file=/etc/ssl/private/vsftpd.pem ssl_enable=YES user_sub_token=$USER local_root=/home/$USER/ftp pasv_min_port=30000 pasv_max_port=31000 userlist_enable=YES userlist_file=/etc/vsftpd.user_list userlist_deny=NO
Save the file and restart the vsftpd service for changes to take effect:
sudo systemctl restart vsftpd
Opening the Firewall
If you are running a 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/tcp
sudo ufw allow 30000:31000/tcp
To avoid being locked out, make sure port
22 is open:
sudo ufw allow OpenSSH
Reload the UFW rules by disabling and re-enabling UFW:
sudo ufw disable
sudo 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 the FTP server, we will create a new user.
- If the user to which you want to grant FTP access already exists, skip the 1st step.
- If you set
allow_writeable_chroot=YESin your configuration file, skip the 3rd step.
Create a new user named
sudo adduser newftpuser
Add the user to the allowed FTP users list:
echo "newftpuser" | sudo tee -a /etc/vsftpd.user_list
Create the FTP directory tree and set the correct permissions :
sudo mkdir -p /home/newftpuser/ftp/upload
sudo chmod 550 /home/newftpuser/ftp
sudo chmod 750 /home/newftpuser/ftp/upload
sudo chown -R newftpuser: /home/newftpuser/ftp
As discussed in the previous section, the user will be able to upload its files to the
At this point, your FTP server is fully functional. You should be able to connect to the 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, create a new shell that will print a message telling the user that their account is limited to FTP access only.
Run the following commands to create the
/bin/ftponly file and make it executable:
echo -e '#!/bin/sh\necho "This account is limited to FTP access only."' | sudo tee -a /bin/ftponly
sudo chmod a+x /bin/ftponly
Append the new shell to the list of valid shells in the
echo "/bin/ftponly" | sudo tee -a /etc/shells
Change the user shell to
sudo usermod newftpuser -s /bin/ftponly
You can use the same command to change the shell of all users you want to give only FTP access.
We’ve shown you how to install and configure a secure and fast FTP server on your Ubuntu 20.04 system.
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.