How to Use Linux SFTP Command to Transfer Files


5 min read

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 IP address or domain name:

sftp remote_username@server_ip_or_hostname

If you are using a password authentication you will be prompted to enter the user password. Once connected, the remote server will display a confirmation message and the sftp> prompt.

Connected to remote_username@server_ip_or_hostname.

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

sftp -oPort=custom_port remote_username@server_ip_or_hostname

SFTP Commands

Most of the SFTP commands are similar or identical to the commands you would use in 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

Once 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, using the cd command. For example, to switch to the /tmp directory you would type:

cd /tmp

All of the above commands are used to navigate and work on the remote location. The sftp prompt also provides commands for local navigation, information and file management.

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

cd lpwd
Local working directory: /home/local_username

Transferring Files with SFTP

SFTP allows you to transfer files securely between two machines.

In most cases, you will use a desktop SFTP client like WinSCP or FileZilla to connect to the remote server and download or upload files. However, the sftp command is useful when you work on a server without GUI and you want to transfer files or when you want to 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 will be 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 name afterward:


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 a local directory to a remote FTP 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 you want to upload a file that is not 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 get command.

To copy a local directory, you would type:

put -r locale_directory

To resume an interrupted upload:


File Manipulations with SFTP

Usually, you would connect to your server via SSH and do you work using the shell terminal but in some situations, your 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:

  • Display statistics of the remote system 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 you can close the connection by typing bye or quit.


In this tutorial, you learned 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.