Linux sftp command

Updated: 11/06/2021 by Computer Hope
sftp command

On Unix-like operating systems, sftp is the command-line interface for using the SFTP secure file transfer protocol. It is an encrypted version of FTP. It transfers files securely over a network connection.


You may already be familiar with FTP: it's a very simple, and very insecure method for uploading or downloading files over a network connection. It does not provide any sort of secure encryption in the session or in the data transfer.

sftp provides this functionality. Think of it as an encrypted version of ftp.


If you need to transfer files over anonymous FTP, sftp is not the program to use. Because all sftp connections are encrypted, they require a username and password (or public key authentication). So, for anonymous FTP transfers, use regular ftp.


sftp performs all operations over an encrypted ssh session. It uses many of the features of ssh, such as public key authentication and data compression.

There are four basic ways to use sftp, and the command syntax for each is listed here. (For more information about each option and it's possible values, see the Options section, below).

  1. The first is an interactive session. In this mode, sftp connects and logs into the specified host, then enters its interactive command mode, where you type all your commands at a prompt. To launch an interactive session of sftp, use the following syntax:

    sftp [-1246Cpqrv] [-B buffer_size] [-b batchfile] [-c cipher]  [-D sftp_server_path] [-F ssh_config] [-i identity_file]  [-l limit] [-o ssh_option] [-P port] [-R num_requests]  [-S program] [-s subsystem | sftp_server] host
    See Interactive Mode for an example of using sftp this way.

  2. You can also use sftp to retrieve files automatically, without any prompted interaction:

    sftp [user@]host[:file ...]
    See Automatic Retrieval Mode for an example of using sftp in this way.

  3. Or you can tell sftp to start its interactive session in a specific remote directory:

    sftp [user@]host[:dir[/]]
    See Starting Interactive Mode In A Specific Remote Directory for an example of using sftp this way.

  4. Lastly, you can run a completely automated session using the -b option. The "b" stands for "batch mode."

    To use batch mode, it is necessary to configure non-interactive authentication, such as public key authentication, so that you don't have to manually enter a password. The sftp syntax for this mode is:

    sftp -b batchfile [user@]host
    For examples of using batch mode, and a guide to setting up public key authentication, see Batch Mode.


Here is a description of each of the options listed in the command syntaxes listed above.

-1 Specify the use of protocol version 1, which dates back to 1997. This option provides compatibility with very old servers. If you're not sure that you need it, do not specify this option.
-2 Specify the use of protocol version 2, which dates back to 1997. This option provides compatibility with very old servers. If you're not sure that you need it, do not specify this option.
-4 Forces sftp to use IPv4 addresses only.
-6 Forces sftp to use IPv6 addresses only.
-B buffer_size Specify the size of the buffer that sftp uses when transferring files. Larger buffers require fewer round trips, but require more memory to do so. The default is 32768 bytes.
-b batchfile Batch mode reads a series of commands from an input batchfile instead of stdin. Since it lacks user interaction it should be used in conjunction with non-interactive authentication. If batchfile is specified as a dash ("-"), standard input will be read for the batch of commands. sftp will abort if any of the following commands fail: get, put, rename, ln, rm, mkdir, chdir, ls, lchdir, chmod, chown, chgrp, lpwd, df, symlink, and lmkdir. Termination on error can be suppressed on a command by command basis by prefixing the command with a "-" character (for example, -rm /tmp/file*).
-C Enables compression (via ssh's -C flag).
-c cipher Selects the cipher to use for encrypting the data transfers. This option is directly passed to ssh.
-D sftp_server_path Connect directly to a local sftp server (rather than via ssh). This option may be useful in debugging the client and server.
-F ssh_config Specifies an alternative per-user configuration file for ssh. This option is directly passed to ssh.
-i identity_file Selects the file from which the identity (private key) for public key authentication is read. This option is directly passed to ssh.
-l limit Limits the used bandwidth, specified in Kbit/s.
-o ssh_option Can pass options to ssh in the format used in ssh_config. This is useful for specifying options for which there is no separate sftp command-line flag. For example, to specify an alternate port use: sftp -oPort=24.

AddressFamily Specifies which address family to use when connecting. Valid arguments are "any", "inet" (use IPv4 only), or "inet6" (use IPv6 only).
BatchMode If set to "yes", passphrase/password querying will be disabled. Also, the ServerAliveInterval option will be set to 300 seconds by default. This option is useful in scripts and other batch jobs where no user is present to supply the password, and where it is desirable to detect a broken network swiftly. The argument must be "yes" or "no". The default is "no".
BindAddress Use the specified address on the local machine as the source address of the connection. Only useful on systems with more than one address. Note that this option does not work if UsePrivilegedPort is set to "yes".
ChallengeResponseAuthentication Specifies whether to use "challenge-response" authentication. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". The default is "yes".
CheckHostIP If this flag is set to "yes", ssh additionally checks the host IP address in the known_hosts file. This allows ssh to detect if a host key changed due to DNS spoofing. If the option is set to "no", the check isn't executed. The default is "yes".
Cipher Specifies the cipher to use for encrypting the session in protocol version 1. Currently, "blowfish", "3des", and "des" are supported. des is only supported in the ssh client for interoperability with legacy protocol 1 implementations that do not support the 3des cipher. Its use is strongly discouraged due to cryptographic weaknesses. The default is "3des".
Ciphers Specifies the ciphers allowed for protocol version 2 in order of preference. Multiple ciphers must be comma-separated. The supported ciphers are "3des-cbc", "aes128-cbc", "aes192-cbc", "aes256-cbc", "aes128-ctr", "aes192-ctr", "aes256-ctr", "arcfour128", "arcfour256", "arcfour", "blowfish-cbc", and "cast128-cbc".

The default value is the following really long string:

Compression Specifies whether to use compression. The argument must be "yes" or "no". The default is "no".
CompressionLevel Specifies the compression level to use if compression is enabled. The argument must be an integer from 1 (fast) to 9 (slower, but best compression ratio). The default level is 6, which is good for most applications. The meaning of the values is the same as in gzip. Note that this option applies to protocol version 1 only.
ConnectionAttempts Specifies the number of tries (one per second) to make before exiting. The argument must be an integer. This may be useful in scripts if the connection sometimes fails. The default is 1.
ConnectTimeout Specifies the timeout (in seconds) used when connecting to the SSH server, instead of using the default system TCP timeout. This value is used only when the target is down or really unreachable, not when it refuses the connection.
ControlMaster Enables the sharing of multiple sessions over a single network connection. When set to "yes", ssh will listen for connections on a control socket specified using the ControlPath argument. Additional sessions can connect to this socket using the same ControlPath with ControlMaster set to "no" (the default). These sessions will try to reuse the master instance's network connection rather than initiating new ones, but falls back to connecting normally if the control socket does not exist, or is not listening.

Setting this to "ask" causes ssh to listen for control connections, but require confirmation using the SSH_ASKPASS program before they are accepted. If the ControlPath cannot be opened, ssh continues without connecting to a master instance.

X11 and ssh-agent forwarding is supported over these multiplexed connections, however, the display and agent forwarded will be the one belonging to the master connection i.e., it is not possible to forward multiple displays or agents.

Two additional options allow for opportunistic multiplexing: try to use a master connection but fall back to creating a new one if one does not already exist. These options are: "auto" and "autoask". The latter requires confirmation like the "ask" option.
ControlPath Specify the path to the control socket used for connection sharing as described in the ControlMaster section above or the string "none" to disable connection sharing. In the path, '%L' will be substituted by the first component of the local hostname, '%l' will be substituted by the local hostname (including any domain name), '%h' will be substituted by the target hostname, '%n' will be substituted by the original target hostname specified on the command line, '%p' the port, '%r' by the remote login username, and '%u' by the username of the user running ssh. It is recommended that any ControlPath used for opportunistic connection sharing include at least %h, %p, and %r. This ensures that shared connections are uniquely identified.
ControlPersist When used in conjunction with ControlMaster, specifies that the master connection should remain open in the background (waiting for future client connections) after the initial client connection was closed. If set to "no", then the master connection isn't placed into the background, and will close as soon as the initial client connection is closed. If set to "yes", then the master connectionremains in the background indefinitely (until killed or closed via a mechanism such as the ssh option "-O exit"). If set to a time in seconds, or a time in any of the formats documented in sshd_config, then the backgrounded master connectionautomatically terminates after it has remained idle (with no client connections) for the specified time.
GlobalKnownHostsFile Specifies one or more files to use for the global host key database, separated by whitespace. The default is /etc/ssh/ssh_known_hosts, /etc/ssh/ssh_known_hosts2.
GSSAPIAuthentication Specifies whether user authentication based on GSSAPI (the Generic Security Service Application Program Interface) is allowed. The default is "no". Note that this option applies to protocol version 2 only.
GSSAPIDelegateCredentials Forward (delegate) credentials to the server. The default is "no". Note that this option applies to protocol version 2 connections using GSSAPI.
HashKnownHosts Indicates that ssh should hash hostnames and addresses when they are added to ~/.ssh/known_hosts. These hashed names may be used normally by ssh and sshd, but they do not reveal identifying information should the file's contents be disclosed. The default is "no". Note that existing names and addresses in known hosts files aren't converted automatically, but may be manually hashed using the ssh-keygen key generator.

Use of this option may break facilities such as tab-completion that rely on being able to read unhashed hostnames from ~/.ssh/known_hosts.
Host Restricts the following declarations (up to the next Host keyword) to be only for those hosts that match one of the patterns given after the keyword. If more than one pattern is provided, they should be separated by whitespace. A single "*" as a pattern can provide global defaults for all hosts. The host is the hostname argument given on the command line (i.e., the name is not converted to a canonicalized hostname before matching).

A pattern entry may be negated by prefixing it with an exclamation mark ("!"). If a negated entry is matched, then the Host entry is ignored, regardless of whether any other patterns on the line match. Negated matches are therefore useful to provide exceptions for wildcard matches.
HostbasedAuthentication Specifies whether to try rhosts-based authentication with public key authentication. The argument must be "yes" or "no". The default is "no". This option applies to protocol version 2 only and is similar to RhostsRSAAuthentication.
HostKeyAlgorithms Specifies the protocol version 2 host key algorithms that the client wants to use in order of preference. The default for this option is the following really, really long string:

[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected],[email protected], [email protected],[email protected], ecdsa-sha2-nistp256,ecdsa-sha2-nistp384,ecdsa-sha2-nistp521, ssh-rsa,ssh-dss

If hostkeys are known for the destination host then this default is modified to prefer their algorithms.
HostKeyAlias Specifies an alias that should be used instead of the real hostname when looking up or saving the host key in the host key database files. This option is useful for tunneling SSH connections or for multiple servers running on a single host.
HostName Specifies the real hostname to log into. This can specify nicknames or abbreviations for hosts. If the hostname contains the character sequence '%h', then this will be replaced with the hostname specified on the command line (this is useful for manipulating unqualified names). The default is the name given on the command line. Numeric IP addresses are also permitted (both on the command line and in HostName specifications).
IdentityFile Specifies a file from which the user's DSA, ECDSA or DSA authentication identity is read. The default is ~/.ssh/identity for protocol version 1, and ~/.ssh/id_dsa, ~/.ssh/id_ecdsa and ~/.ssh/id_rsa for protocol version 2. Additionally, any identities represented by the authentication agent will be used for authentication. ssh(1) will try to load certificate information from the file name obtained by appending to the path of a specified IdentityFile.

The file name may use the tilde syntax to refer to a user's home directory or one of the following escape characters: '%d' (local user's home directory), '%u' (local user name), '%l' (local hostname), '%h' (remote hostname) or '%r' (remote username).

It is possible to have multiple identity files specified in configuration files; all these identities will be tried in sequence. Multiple IdentityFile directivesadd to the list of identities tried (this behaviour differs from that of other configuration directives).
IdentitiesOnly Specifies that ssh should only use the authentication identity files configured in the ssh_config files, even if ssh-agent offers more identities. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". This option is intended for situations where ssh-agent offers many different identities. The default is "no".
IPQoS Specifies the IPv4 type-of-service or DSCP class for connections. Accepted values are "af11", "af12", "af13", "af21", "af22", "af23", "af31", "af32", "af33", "af41", "af42", "af43", "cs0", "cs1", "cs2", "cs3", "cs4", "cs5", "cs6", "cs7", "ef", "lowdelay", "throughput", "reliability", or a numeric value. This option may take one or two arguments, separated by whitespace. If one argument is specified, it is used as the packet class unconditionally. If two values are specified, the first is automatically selected for interactive sessions and the second for non-interactive sessions. The default is "lowdelay" for interactive sessions and "throughput" for non-interactive sessions.
KbdInteractiveAuthentication Specifies whether to use keyboard-interactive authentication. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". The default is "yes".
KbdInteractiveDevices Specifies the list of methods to use in keyboard-interactive authentication. Multiple method names must be comma-separated. The default is to use the server specified list. The methods available vary depending on what the server supports. For an OpenSSH server, it may be zero or more of: "bsdauth", "pam", and "skey".
KexAlgorithms Specifies the available KEX (Key Exchange) algorithms. Multiple algorithms must be comma-separated. The default is the following very long string:

ecdh-sha2-nistp256,ecdh-sha2-nistp384,ecdh-sha2-nistp521, diffie-hellman-group-exchange-sha256, diffie-hellman-group-exchange-sha1, diffie-hellman-group14-sha1, diffie-hellman-group1-sha1
LogLevel Gives the verbosity level that is used when logging messages from ssh. The possible values are: QUIET, FATAL, ERROR, INFO, VERBOSE, DEBUG, DEBUG1, DEBUG2, and DEBUG3. The default is INFO. DEBUG and DEBUG1 are equivalent. DEBUG2 and DEBUG3 each specify higher levels of verbose output.
MACs Specifies the MAC (message authentication code) algorithms in order of preference. The MAC algorithm is used in protocol version 2 for data integrity protection. Multiple algorithms must be comma-separated. The default is the following string:

hmac-md5,hmac-sha1,[email protected], hmac-ripemd160,hmac-sha1-96,hmac-md5-96, hmac-sha2-256,hmac-sha2-256-96,hmac-sha2-512, hmac-sha2-512-96
NoHostAuthenticationForLocalhost This option can be used if the home directory is shared across machines. In this case, localhost will refer to a different machine on each of the machines and the user gets many warnings about changed host keys. However, this option disables host authentication for localhost. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". The default is to check the host key for localhost.
NumberOfPasswordPrompts Specifies the number of password prompts before giving up. The argument to this keyword must be an integer. The default is 3.
PasswordAuthentication Specifies whether to use password authentication. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". The default is "yes".
PKCS11Provider Specifies which PKCS#11 (Public Key Cryptography Standard number 11) provider to use. The argument to this keyword is the PKCS#11 shared library ssh should use to communicate with a PKCS#11 token providing the user's private RSA key.
Port Specifies the port number to connect on the remote host. The default is 22.
PreferredAuthentications Specifies the order in which the client should try protocol 2 authentication methods. This allows a client to prefer one method (e.g., keyboard-interactive) over another method (e.g., password). The default is:

gssapi-with-mic,hostbased,publickey, keyboard-interactive,password
Protocol Specifies the protocol versions ssh should support in order of preference. The possible values are '1' and '2'. Multiple versions must be comma-separated. When this option is set to "2,1" ssh will try version 2 and fall back to version 1 if version 2 is not available. The default is '2'.
ProxyCommand Specifies the command to use to connect to the server. The command string extends to the end of the line, and is executed with the user's shell. In the command string, any occurrence of '%h' will be substituted by the hostname to connect, '%p' by the port, and '%r' by the remote username. The command can be basically anything, and should read from its standard input and write to its standard output. It should eventually connect an sshd server running on some machine, or execute sshd -i somewhere. Host key management will be done using the HostName of the host being connected (defaulting to the name typed by the user). Setting the command to "none" disables this option entirely. Note that CheckHostIP is not available for connects with a proxy command.

This directive is useful in conjunction with nc and its proxy support. For example, the following directive would connect via an HTTP proxy at

ProxyCommand /usr/bin/nc -X connect -x %h %p
PubkeyAuthentication Specifies whether to try public key authentication. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". The default is "yes". This option applies to protocol version 2 only.
RekeyLimit Specifies the maximum amount of data that is transmitted before the session key is renegotiated. The argument is the number of bytes, with an optional suffix of 'K', 'M', or 'G' to indicate Kilobytes, Megabytes, or Gigabytes, respectively. The default is between '1G' and '4G', depending on the cipher. This option applies to protocol version 2 only.
RhostsRSAAuthentication Specifies whether to try rhosts based authentication with RSA host authentication. The argument must be "yes" or "no". The default is "no". This option applies to protocol version 1 only and requires ssh to be setuid root.
RSAAuthentication Specifies whether to try RSA authentication. The argument to this keyword must be "yes" or "no". RSA authentication only attempts if the identity file exists, or an authentication agent is running. The default is "yes". Note that this option applies to protocol version 1 only.
SendEnv Specifies what variables from the local environment should be sent to the server. Note that environment passing is only supported for protocol 2. The server must also support it, and the server must be configured to accept these environment variables. Variables are specified by name, which may contain wildcard characters. Multiple environment variables may be separated by whitespace or spread across multiple SendEnv directives. The default is not to send any environment variables.
ServerAliveInterval Sets a timeout interval in seconds after which if no data is received from the server, ssh sends a message through the encrypted channel to request a response from the server. The default is 0, indicating that these messages are not sent to the server, or 300 if the BatchMode option is set. This option applies to protocol version 2 only. ProtocolKeepAlives and SetupTimeOut are Debian-specific compatibility aliases for this option.
ServerAliveCountMax Sets the number of server alive messages (see below) which may be sent without ssh receiving any messages back from the server. If this threshold is reached while server alive messages are sent, ssh will disconnect from the server, terminating the session. It is important to note that the use of server alive messages is very different from TCPKeepAlive. The server alive messages are sent through the encrypted channel and therefore are not spoofable. The TCP keepalive option enabled by TCPKeepAlive is spoofable. The server alive mechanism is valuable when the client or server depend on knowing when a connection has become inactive.

The default value is 3. If, for example, ServerAliveInterval (see below) is set to 15 and ServerAliveCountMax is left at the default, if the server becomes unresponsive, ssh will disconnect after approximately 45 seconds. This option applies to protocol version 2 only; in protocol version 1 there is no mechanism to request a response from the server to the server alive messages, so disconnection is the responsibility of the TCP stack.
StrictHostKeyChecking If this flag is set to "yes", ssh never automatically adds host keys to the ~/.ssh/known_hosts file, and refuses to connect to hosts whose host key has changed. This provides maximum protection against trojan horse attacks, though it can be annoying when the /etc/ssh/ssh_known_hosts file is poorly maintained or when connections to new hosts are frequently made. This option forces the user to manually add all new hosts. If this flag is set to "no", ssh automatically adds new host keys to the user known hosts files. If this flag is set to "ask", new host keys are added to the user known host files only after the user has confirmed that is what they really want to do, and ssh will refuse to connect to hosts whose host key has changed. The host keys of known hosts will be verified automatically in all cases. The argument must be "yes", "no", or "ask". The default is "ask".
TCPKeepAlive Specifies whether the system should send TCP keepalive messages to the other side. If they are sent, death of the connection or crash of one of the machines will be properly noticed. This option only uses TCP keepalives (as opposed to using ssh-level keepalives), so takes a long time to notice when the connection dies. As such, you probably want the ServerAliveInterval option as well. However, this means that connections will die if the route is down temporarily, and some people find it annoying.

The default is "yes" (to send TCP keepalive messages), and the client notices if the network goes down or the remote host dies. This is important in scripts, and many users want it too.

To disable TCP keepalive messages, the value should be set to "no".
UsePrivilegedPort Specifies whether to use a privileged port for outgoing connections. The argument must be "yes" or "no". The default is "no". If set to "yes", ssh must be setuid root. Note that this option must be set to "yes" for RhostsRSAAuthentication with older servers.
User Specifies the user to use for log in. This can be useful when a different username is used on different machines. This saves the trouble of having to remember to give the username on the command line.
UserKnownHostsFile Specifies one or more files to use for the user host key database, separated by whitespace. The default is ~/.ssh/known_hosts, ~/.ssh/known_hosts2.
VerifyHostKeyDNS Specifies whether to verify the remote key using DNS and SSHFP resource records. If this option is set to "yes", the client will implicitly trust keys that match a secure fingerprint from DNS. Insecure fingerprints will be handled as if this option was set to "ask". If this option is set to "ask", information on fingerprint match will be displayed, but the user will still need to confirm new host keys according to the StrictHostKeyChecking option. The argument must be "yes", "no", or "ask". The default is "no". Note that this option applies to protocol version 2 only.
-P port Specifies the port to connect to on the remote host.
-p Preserves modification times, access times, and modes from the original files transferred.
-q Quiet mode: disables the progress meter and warning and diagnostic messages from ssh.
-R num_requests Specify how many requests may be outstanding at any one time. Increasing this may slightly improve file transfer speed but increases memory usage. The default is 64 outstanding requests.
-r Recursively copy entire directories when uploading and downloading. Note that sftp does not follow symbolic links encountered in the tree traversal.
-S program Name of the program to use for the encrypted connection. The program must understand ssh options.
-s subsystem | sftp_server Specifies the SSH2 subsystem or the path for an sftp server on the remote host. A path is useful for using sftp over protocol version 1, or when the remote sshd does not have an sftp subsystem configured.
-v Raise logging level. This option is also passed to ssh.

Interactive mode

In interactive mode, sftp logs you into the remote system and places you at a prompt that is similar to the command prompt on your local system. It offers you a limited, but very useful, set of commands with which you can navigate the remote file system and send and receive files.

Let's say you want to start an interactive sftp session on the server named "". And, let's say your user account on is named "user". From your system's command line, You can start the session using the command:

sftp [email protected]

Or, if your username on your local system is also "user", you could type:


...and your username "user" automatically sends it as the username.

The server will respond by asking you for your password:

[email protected]'s password:

...and if you enter it correctly, you will receive a "you're connected" message, and the sftp prompt, like this:

Connected to

You can now move around in the filesystem with "cd directory", list files with "ls", download files with "get filename", and upload files with "put filename". It's pretty much identical to an interactive ftp session, except it's encrypted and secure.

When you're done, you can log off with the "bye" command ("exit" also works), and sftp will exit.

Here's a list of the commands you can use in Interactive Mode:

Interactive mode commands

bye Close the session and quit sftp. Same as "exit".
cd path Change the remote working directory to path.
chgrp grp path Change group of file path to grp.

path may contain wildcard characters and may match multiple files. grp must be a numeric GID (group ID).
chmod mode path Change the permissions of file path to mode.

path may contain wildcard characters and can match multiple files.
chown own path Change owner of file path to own.

path may contain wildcard characters and may match multiple files.

own must be a numeric UID (user ID).
df [-hi] [path] Display usage information for the filesystem holding the current directory (or path if specified). If the -h flag is specified, the capacity information will be displayed using "human-readable" suffixes. The -i flag requests display of inode information in addition to capacity information. This command is only supported on servers that implement the "[email protected]" extension.
exit Close the session and quit sftp. Same as "bye".
get [-Ppr] remote-path [local-path] Retrieve the remote-path and store it on the local machine. If the local path name is not specified, it is given the same name it has on the remote machine.

remote-path may contain wildcard characters and may matcal-path is specified, then local-path must specify a directory.

If either the -P or -p flag is specified, then full file permissions and access times are copied too.

If the -r flag is specified then directories are copied recursively. Note that sftp does not follow symbolic links when performing recursive transfers.
help Display a help message.
lcd path Change the local working directory to path.
lls [ls-options [path]] Display a directory listing of the local directory path, or the local working directory if path is not specified.

ls-options may contain any flags supported by the local system's ls command.

path may contain wildcard characters and may match multiple files.
lmkdir path Create a directory on your local system specified by path.
ln [-s] oldpath newpath Create a link from oldpath to newpath. If the -s flag is specified the created link is a symbolic link, otherwise it is a hard link.
lpwd Print the name of the local working directory.
ls [-1afhlnrSt] [path] Display a remote directory listing of either path or the current directory if path is not specified. path may contain wildcard characters and can match multiple files.

The following flags alter the behaviour of ls:

-1 Display the listing in a single column.
-a List files whose names begin with a dot ("."), which otherwise would not be listed.
-f Do not sort the list. The default sort order is lexicographical.
-h When used in conjunction with -l or -n options (which create a long-format list), this option specifies "human-readable" unit suffixes for file sizes. For instance, instead of "4096" bytes, this option lists the size as "4.0K".
-l Create a "long-format" list, displaying additional file details including permissions and ownership information.
-n Creates a long-format list Like the -l option, but with user and group information presented numerically.
-r Reverse the sort order of the listing.
-S Sort the listing by file size, largest to smallest.
-t Sort the listing by last modification time, newest to oldest.
lumask umask Set local umask to umask.
mkdir path Create a directory on the remote system specified by path.
progress Toggle the display of a progress meter.
put [-Ppr] local-path [remote-path] Upload local-path and store it on the remote machine. If the remote path name is not specified, it is given the same name it has on the local machine.

local-path may contain wildcard characters and may match multiple files. If it does, and remote-path is specified, then remote-path must specify a directory.

If either the -P or -p flag is specified, then full file permissions and access times are copied too.

If the -r flag is specified then directories are copied recursively. Note that sftp does not follow symbolic links when performing recursive transfers.
pwd Display the name of the remote working directory.
quit Quit sftp.
rename oldpath newpath Rename a remote file from oldpath to newpath.
rm path Delete the remote file specified by path.
rmdir path Remove the remote directory specified by path.
symlink oldpath newpath Create a symbolic link to oldpath named newpath.
version Display the sftp protocol version.
!command Execute the command command in a local shell.
! Drop into a local shell. Type exit to return to the sftp session.
? Same as "help".


  • Interactive Mode commands are case-insensitive, so it doesn't matter if you spell them with capital or lowercase letters (or a mix of both). Filenames are still case-sensitive, however.
  • Any file or directory names that contain spaces must be enclosed in quotes, or the server will interpret them as separate names.

Automatic retrieval mode

In this mode, you can specify the exact pathname of the file (or files) you want to retrieve in the sftp command itself. For example, if you want to get the file documents/ from the remote server (where your username is myname), you could use the command:

sftp [email protected]:documents/

When you run this command, sftp will connect to, ask you for your password, and once you're authenticated it attempts to download the file documents/ Since we didn't put a slash at the beginning of the directory name, it looks for documents in your home directory on the server. If it finds, it downloads it.

The output looks like this:

Fetching /home/myname/documents/ to

...and then sftp will exit. You can also specify a location for the file to be downloaded. For instance, this command:

sftp [email protected]:documents/ /tmp

...downloads into your /tmp directory. Or, you can specify a completely different name for the downloaded file:

sftp [email protected]:documents/ /tmp/

...and the output will indicate the new filename:

Fetching /home/myname/documents/ /tmp/

You can also specify wildcards in the filename, for instance:

sftp [email protected]:documents/*.zip

...and sftp downloads any files with the extension .zip in the documents remote directory. The output lists each file on its own line, like this:

Fetching /home/myname/documents/ to
Fetching /home/myname/documents/ to
Fetching /home/myname/documents/ to

Starting interactive mode in a specific remote directory

Sometimes it's more convenient to start an interactive mode session from a specific remote directory. You can do this by specifying it on the command line:

sftp [email protected]:documents/budget/april/
[email protected]'s password: 
Connected to
Changing to: /home/myname/documents/budget/april/

Batch mode

It's also possible to run sftp in a completely scripted fashion. This is called batch mode, and it allows you to perform sftp transfers without any interaction at the keyboard. This is useful, for instance, if you want to set up a recurring transfer in a cron job, or a one-time scheduled transfer using the at command.

However, because batch mode is completely non-interactive, it does not allow you to enter a username and password when connecting to the server. So, to use batch mode, you'll have to log in automatically. The standard way to do this, and the most secure, is to use public key authentication. Let's go over that quickly.

Setting Up Public Key Authentication

Public Key Authentication allows you to log into a remote server securely without typing in your password. First, you generate two keys on your local system: a private key and a public key. Then you copy the text of your public key onto the remote server. After that, as long as you have the private key on your local machine, you can log into the remote machine without typing in a password.

To do this, the first step is to generate the public and private keys.

The keys will be located in the directory .ssh in your home directory on your local system. First, check to see if the .ssh directory already exists:

ls -d ~/.ssh

This either returns the directory name:


...or tell you that it doesn't exist:

ls: cannot access /home/username/.ssh: No such file or directory

If it doesn't exist, we need to create it before the next step:

mkdir ~/.ssh

Next, we need to make sure this directory has the correct permissions. Ensure you're the only person who can access this directory (read, write, and execute). For a directory, the octal value of this file mode is 700. Let's change the permissions on our .ssh directory:

chmod 700 ~/.ssh

Now we need to generate the keys themselves. The program used to generate key pairs for the ssh protocol is called ssh-keygen. Run it at the command line without any options:


Itprompts you for the information it needs to generate the keys. Use all the default values (press Enter at every prompt).


One of the prompts asks you for a passphrase, which offers an additional level of security on top of the encrypted private key. Here we will leave the password blank. If you want to use a password with your key, use a program called ssh-agent to load your key into memory; this allows you to use a password-protected key without having to type in the password more than once.

The output from ssh-keygen looks something like this:

Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/home/username/.ssh/id_rsa): 
Created directory '/home/username/.ssh'.
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 
Enter same passphrase again: 
Your identification is saved in /home/username/.ssh/id_rsa.
Your public key is saved in /home/username/.ssh/
The key fingerprint is:
d4:7b:66:c4:e6:ba:78:87:e7:23:08:c7:0d:d7:b0:7f [email protected]
The key's randomart image is:
+--[ RSA 2048]----+
|                 |
|         ...     |
|        . .P+    |
|       .. o=.    |
|     ...S+.e=    |
|      . o .=. E  |
|       o ... .   |
|      ..e.+.+    |
|        ...=..   |

You'll even get a neat piece of art representing your public key, which you can print out and hang on your wall, if you like.

Your keys are now generated. There are two files, id_rsa and We need to change the permissions on these files as well, so that no one but you can access them (read, write, and execute). The octal value of these permission bits is 700.

chmod 700 ~/.ssh/id_rsa*

And make sure the directory has the same permission bits set:

chmod 700 ~/.ssh

Now ssh to your server. Let's say it's called

ssh [email protected]

Enter your password and log in. Once you're at your server's command prompt, check to see if the .ssh directory exists there. On the server:

ls -d ~/.ssh

If it doesn't exist, create it, and give it the appropriate permissions, like on your local system. On the server:

mkdir ~/.ssh
chmod 700 ~/.ssh

Same for the authorized_keys file. First check that it exists. On the server:

ls ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

If it doesn't, create it. You can use touch to create an empty file. On the server:

touch ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
chmod 700 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

Of course, if the directory and file exist already, you don't need to create them. Either way, once you know the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file exists, you can log out of the server:


Which returns you to your local system command prompt.

Now you need to place the contents of your local public key file (~/.ssh/, which you created earlier with ssh-keygen) into the file ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on your server.

The contents of this file are all-in-one very long line (no line breaks). You can look at it yourself with the cat command:

cat ~/.ssh/

...and it looks something like this:

ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQABAAABAQDTiP0LXi74qgpp6VBqzro67QOGtum10
ipz4+a27kQEqerAIHt37/MMT5XNqn3mqbI [email protected]

This line of text needs to be placed into the authorized_keys file on your server, on its own line. There are several ways to do this: you could copy the text on your local server, open the file using a text editor on the server, and paste it in on its own line. Or, you could use a program called ssh-copy-id, which is part of the default ssh installation on many systems. However, here we will append it directly to the file using ssh itself.

If your remote username is myusername and your server name is, you would run this command:

cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh [email protected] 'cat >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys'

This runs the cat command on your public key file, pipes the output to ssh, which takes that input and appends it directly to the authorized_keys file on the remote machine.

Now your public key is installed on the server, and be able to log in without a password, and conduct batch sftp sessions.


If the server is still asking you for your password when you try to log in, check that the server's ssh daemon configuration, located by default in /etc/ssh/sshd_config, contains the following two lines:

RSAAuthentication yes
PubkeyAuthentication yes

These are part of the default configuration, so you don't need to add them, set them, or un-comment them in the configuration file. However, they are required for public key authentication. If it's not working, this is the first place, check.

Executing the batch sftp session

To run a batch sftp session, create a text file containing the sequence of sftp commands to run on the server, with each command on its own line. For instance, if you want to automate the uploading of a set of files called image01.jpg, image02.jpg... into a directory on the remote server called images in your home directory, you could create a text file called mybatch.txt which contains the following commands:

cd images
put image*.jpg

Then, you would execute the batch with the following command:

sftp -b mybatch.txt [email protected]

...and sftp outputs the results of the commands, for example:

sftp> cd images
sftp> put image*.jpg
Uploading image01.jpg to /home/myname/images/image01.jpg
Uploading image02.jpg to /home/myname/images/image02.jpg
Uploading image03.jpg to /home/myname/images/image03.jpg

After all commands are executed (successfully or not), sftp will log out and return you to the command line.



This command attempts to initiate an interactive sftp session with the server The name used to log in will be the same as the username with which you ran the command. Once you are successfully logged in, you will see a message similar to the following, along with the sftp> command prompt:

Remote system type is UNIX. 
Using ASCII mode to transfer files. 
sftp [email protected]com

Same as the above command, but attempts to log in with the username fred.

sftp [email protected]:/home/fred/images

Attempts to initiate an interactive sftp session with the server, using the name fred to log in. Upon successful login, you begin the session in the directory /home/fred/images.

sftp [email protected]:/home/fred/images/picture.jpg

Attempts to download the file /home/fred/images/picture.jpg from the server using the username fred to log in. If the file exists, it will be downloaded to the local working directory, and then sftp will exit.

sftp -b batch.txt [email protected]

Attempts to execute the sftp commands in the text file batch.txt, on the server, as the user named fred. The commands in the file batch.txt must be listed one per line. For the session to be initiated, the server and local client must be configured so that no keyboard input is required to log in; see Setting Up Public Key Authentication above for more information.

Interactive command examples

The following examples may run from the sftp> prompt once an interactive session is initiated. See Interactive Mode Commands above for a complete list of interactive commands and options.


Prints the name of the remote working directory.


Prints the name of the local working directory.


List the contents of the remote working directory.


List the contents of the local working directory.

cd documents

Changes the remote working directory to the subdirectory documents.

lcd documents

Changes the local working directory to the subdirectory documents.


Download the remote file into the local working directory.

get /home/fred

Download the remote file into the local directory /home/fred. If the directory /home/fred does not exist, sftp will attempt to download the file into the local directory /home and name it fred.


sftp does not recognize the tilde shortcut for home directories ("~"), so you have to use the complete name of a home directory if you're specifying it in sftp.

get /home/fred/

Download the remote file into the local directory /home/fred, giving it the new name after it is downloaded.

mkdir documents

Create the directory documents in the remote working directory.


Upload the local file into the remote working directory.

put /home/fred/documents/ /home/fred/documents/

Upload the local file /home/fred/documents/ into the remote directory /home/fred/documents, renaming it after it is uploaded.

put /home/fred/images/image*.jpg /home/fred/images

Upload all files in the local directory /home/fred/images whose name starts with image, and ends in the suffix .jpg, into the remote directory /home/fred/images.

rename /home/fred/file.txt /home/fred/newfile.txt

Rename the remote file /home/fred/file.txt, giving it the name newfile.txt.

rm /home/fred/newfile.txt

Delete the remote file /home/fred/newfile.txt.

!commandname option1 option2

Run the command commandname option1 option2 on your local system without disconnecting from the sftp session.


Disconnect from the sftp session, and quit sftp.

ftp — Conduct an interactive FTP session over a secure network connection.
slogin — Login to a remote system securely.