Understanding FTP and SFTP: A Simple Guide for Non-Technical Users

Matt Whiteman

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A Comprehensive Guide for Non-Technical Users

In today’s digital world, we’re all connected through various technologies that make our lives easier. Among these technologies are FTP and SFTP transport protocols. If you’ve been approached by a web developer or agency asking for your FTP or SFTP logins, you might be wondering what these terms mean. This article aims to demystify these concepts for non-technical people, helping you to understand them better.

What are FTP and SFTP?

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is a standard network protocol used to transfer files from one host to another over a TCP-based network, such as the internet. FTP is built on a client-server architecture and uses separate control and data connections between the client and the server.

SFTP, or SSH File Transfer Protocol (also known as Secure File Transfer Protocol), is a secure version of FTP. As the name suggests, SFTP transfers files securely by encrypting the data being transferred, providing an additional layer of protection against common threats like data interception and unauthorised access.

How are FTP and SFTP Used?

FTP and SFTP are primarily used to transfer files over the internet. They are widely used by businesses, organisations, and individuals to upload and download files to and from their servers.

For instance, a business may use FTP or SFTP to upload new web pages to its website or to download data backups. Similarly, an individual might use FTP or SFTP to upload photos to a personal website or download files shared by a friend.

Why do Web Developers and Agencies Request FTP or SFTP Logins?

Web developers and agencies often need to access a client’s server to carry out various tasks. These might include updating website content, installing or updating software, troubleshooting issues, or performing backups. Having FTP or SFTP access allows them to complete these tasks efficiently and effectively.

When a developer or agency requests your FTP or SFTP login details, they’re asking for the information they need to connect to your server using an FTP or SFTP client – a type of software designed to facilitate file transfers over these protocols.

It’s important to note that giving someone your FTP or SFTP login details grants them a significant level of access to your server. Therefore, you should only provide these details to trusted parties and ensure that the connection is secure, especially when using FTP, which doesn’t encrypt data by default.

Understanding the Importance of SFTP

While FTP can be useful, it has a significant drawback: it lacks security. FTP does not encrypt the data it transfers, meaning that someone could potentially intercept the files or login details you send over FTP. This is where SFTP comes in.

SFTP provides the same file transfer capabilities as FTP but adds a layer of security. It encrypts your data, making it much more difficult for anyone to intercept or access without authorisation. This is particularly important when transferring sensitive data or when providing others with access to your server.


In the digital landscape, understanding the basics of FTP and SFTP is crucial, even for non-technical users. These protocols play a significant role in transferring data across the internet, and knowing their differences can help ensure your online activities remain secure.

While it may seem technical and complex, remember that FTP and SFTP are simply ways to move files securely and efficiently over the internet. And if a trusted web developer or agency asks for your FTP or SFTP login details, they are seeking the necessary permissions to carry out their work on your website effectively. Just ensure that security is prioritised, especially when using FTP, to protect your data and systems from potential threats.

By understanding these key aspects, you will be better informed and more confident when dealing with web developers, agencies, and other technical professionals, allowing you to make smarter decisions regarding your digital assets.

How to Provide FTP or SFTP Access Safely

If you decide to grant FTP or SFTP access to a web developer or agency, there are a few precautions you should take to protect your data:

1. Use strong credentials: Ensure that your username and password are not easily guessable. A combination of letters, numbers, and special characters can help to secure your account.

2. Limit access: If possible, provide access only to the specific directories or files that the developer needs to work on. This minimises the risk if the login details fall into the wrong hands.

3. Switch to SFTP: If you’re using FTP, consider switching to SFTP for a more secure connection. This is particularly important if you’re transferring sensitive data.

4. Monitor activity: Keep an eye on the server logs for any unusual activity. This could indicate unauthorised access or potential security threats.

5. Change credentials after completion: Once the developer or agency has finished their work, it’s a good practice to change your login details. This helps to secure your server against unauthorised access in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions about FTP and SFTP

To help further demystify FTP and SFTP, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. Can I use FTP or SFTP myself?

Yes, anyone can use FTP or SFTP. All you need is a client software like FileZilla, Cyberduck, or WinSCP. These tools have user-friendly interfaces that make it easy to upload, download, and manage files on your server.

2. How do I choose between FTP and SFTP?

The main consideration is security. If you’re transferring sensitive data or providing access to your server, SFTP is the safer option. However, if you’re just uploading files to a personal website and aren’t concerned about data interception, FTP may suffice.

3. What if I lose my FTP or SFTP login details?

If you lose your login details, you should be able to reset them through your hosting provider. They usually offer a way to reset your username and password through their website.

Understanding FTP and SFTP can feel like diving into a sea of technical jargon, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. With this knowledge, you are now better equipped to engage with web professionals and make informed decisions about your digital assets. Remember, in the digital world, a little knowledge can go a long way towards securing your online presence.

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Matt Whiteman


Matt Whiteman

I hope you enjoy reading this article.

If you want to talk to me about your website or marketing, please click here.

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