SCP and SFTP are both used for transferring files, but one or the other protocol may be a better fit for your needs, depending on your requirements for speed, security and functionality. This article compares SCP and SFTP to help you choose which secure file transfer protocol is best for your needs.

What is SCP? 

Secure Copy (SCP) is a protocol based on SSH (Secure Shell) that provides file transfers between hosts on a network. With SCP, you can quickly transfer files between hosts along with basic file attributes such as access permission and timestamps that are not always available via FTP. The protocol uses the Remote Copy Protocol (RCP) to transfer files and SSH to provide authentication and encryption.   

What is SFTP? 

SFTP is a more robust file transfer protocol, also based on SSH. More like a remote file management protocol, SFTP allows for a range of operations on remote files (viewing directories, deleting files and directories, etc.).   

When Should You Use SCP or SFTP?


SCP is usually much faster than SFTP at transferring files, especially on high latency networks. This happens because SCP implements a more efficient transfer algorithm, one which does not require waiting for packet acknowledgement, unlike SFTP. 

Which Protocol Should You Use? SCP


Since both protocols run on SSH, they both provide the same security features, which include password and data encryption as well as public-key authentication.

Which Protocol Should You Use? Either SCP or SFTP


SCP provides little functionality other than exactly what its name implies: securely copying files. If you or your users will be managing files, including view/searching directories, creating folders and organizing files, deleting or renaming files, etc., SFTP is the superior protocol. As well, SFTP allows for pausing and resuming data transfers, which helps in environments with intermittent connectivity. 

Which Protocol Should You Use? SFTP

File Size

Neither SCP nor SFTP have file size restrictions. However, SCP’s file transfer speed may be beneficial depending on your files’ size. 

Which Protocol Should You Use? Based on your users’ needs 


Both SCP and SFTP have their advantages when it comes to file transfer over SSH. Since they both use SSH and share security features, the “better” protocol is dependent on your environment’s requirements. Many file transfer servers like Cerberus FTP are capable of implementing both protocols side by side, providing users and clients with the most flexible FTP solution.