How to Use SCP Command to Securely Transfer Files
4 min read
SCP (secure copy) is a command-line utility that allows you to securely copy files and directories between two locations.
scp, you can copy a file or directory:
- From your local system to a remote system.
- From a remote system to your local system.
- Between two remote systems from your local system.
When transferring data with
scp, both the files and password are encrypted so that anyone snooping on the traffic doesn’t get anything sensitive.
In this tutorial, we will show you how to use the
scp command through practical examples and detailed explanations of the most common scp options.
SCP Command Syntax
Before going into how to use the
scp command, let’s start by reviewing the basic syntax.
scp command syntax take the following form:
scp [OPTION] [user@]SRC_HOST:]file1 [user@]DEST_HOST:]file2
OPTION- scp options such as cipher, ssh configuration, ssh port, limit, recursive copy …etc.
[user@]SRC_HOST:]file1- Source file.
[user@]DEST_HOST:]file2- Destination file
Local files should be specified using an absolute or relative path, while remote file names should include a user and host specification.
scp provides a number of options that control every aspect of its behavior. The most widely used options are:
-P- Specifies the remote host ssh port.
-p- Preserves files modification and access times.
-q- Use this option if you want to suppress the progress meter and non-error messages.
-C- This option forces
scpto compresses the data as it is sent to the destination machine.
-r- This option tells
scpto copy directories recursively.
Before you Begin
scp command relies on
ssh for data transfer, so it requires an ssh key or password to authenticate on the remote systems.
The colon (
:) is how
scp distinguish between local and remote locations.
To be able to copy files, you must have at least read permissions on the source file and write permission on the target system.
Be careful when copying files that share the same name and location on both systems,
scp will overwrite files without warning.
Copy Files and Directories Between Two Systems with
Copy a Local File to a Remote System with the
To copy a file from a local to a remote system run the following command:
scp file.txt firstname.lastname@example.org:/remote/directory
file.txt is the name of the file we want to copy,
remote_username is the user on the remote server,
10.10.0.2 is the server IP address. The
/remote/directory is the path to the directory you want to copy the file to. If you don’t specify a remote directory, the file will be copied to the remote user home directory.
You will be prompted to enter the user password, and the transfer process will start.
email@example.com's password: file.txt 100% 0 0.0KB/s 00:00
Omitting the filename from the destination location copies the file with the original name. If you want to save the file under a different name, you need to specify the new file name:
scp file.txt firstname.lastname@example.org:/remote/directory/newfilename.txt
If SSH on the remote host is listening on a port other than the default 22 then you can specify the port using the
scp -P 2322 file.txt email@example.com:/remote/directory
The command to copy a directory is much like as when copying files. The only difference is that you need to use the
-r flag for recursive.
To copy a directory from a local to remote system, use the
scp -r /local/directory firstname.lastname@example.org:/remote/directory
Copy a Remote File to a Local System using the
To copy a file from a remote to a local system, use the remote location as a source and local location as the destination.
For example to copy a file named
file.txt from a remote server with IP
10.10.0.2 run the following command:
scp email@example.com:/remote/file.txt /local/directory
If you haven’t set a passwordless SSH login to the remote machine, you will be asked to enter the user password.
Copy a File Between Two Remote Systems using the
rsync, when using
scp you don’t have to log in to one of the servers to transfer files from one to another remote machine.
The following command will copy the file
/files/file.txt from the remote host
host1.com to the directory
/files on the remote host
scp firstname.lastname@example.org:/files/file.txt email@example.com:/files
You will be prompted to enter the passwords for both remote accounts. The data will be transfer directly from one remote host to the other.
To route the traffic through the machine on which the command is issued, use the
scp -3 firstname.lastname@example.org:/files/file.txt email@example.com:/files
In this tutorial, you learned how to use the
scp command to copy files and directories.
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.