What is SFTP?

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It is a standard mechanism that lets computers move files and folders between them across a network connection. For example, say you want to edit your people.whitman.edu web page. You would connect to the appropriate server (see below) using a piece of software that knows how to use FTP, download the file you want to change to your computer, make your changes, then upload the altered file back to the server.

SFTP is a more modern version of FTP that has some important security features. Because of this, we have turned off FTP access to all of our servers, and require all connections to be made using the more secure SFTP protocol.

The Software

Basic SFTP Software Clients

Below are two recommended SFTP software clients.  You will need software like this installed on your computer in order to connect to an SFTP server.  These two software clients are already installed on most Whitman computers.

  • FileZilla - Free and open-source, runs on WindowsOS X, and LinuxRecommended for Windows
  • Cyberduck - Free and open-source, designed for the Mac.  Recommended for Mac OS X

Advanced SFTP Software Programs

If you are planning on spending a lot of time changing server-side files (if you become your club's webmaster, for example), you may find it more convenient to edit files "directly on the server," rather than constantly downloading and uploading files all of the time.  This can be more dangerous, since you won't necessarily have a backup of the files you're working on, but the time and convenience trade-off may be worthwhile in some cases. Use at your own risk .

  • NetDrive - Mounts an SFTP server connection as a "Windows Drive Letter." Windows only.
  • sshfs - Module of the FUSE project.  Available natively for Linux, with an OS X port available called MacFUSE.  You'll need to download both the FUSE core and the sshfs module.

To reiterate: using these advanced software programs is considerably different than using normal SFTP software.  If you don't feel comfortable experimenting with new software, these options are not for you.

Configuring a Connection

The buttons you click and the menu items you select to configure a new connection depends on the software you decide to use.  However, the basic information needed to connect to a server is the same.  Some software will have all of the following options, others will only have some.

  • Server -  the computer you are trying to connect to.  Also sometimes referred to as the Host.  Some commonly-used servers: 
    • If you are faculty/staff, your designated server is people.whitman.edu
    • If you are editing a club or department website, connect to webedit.whitman.edu
  • Protocol or Servertype - the "language" with which your computer will talk to the server. 
    Use SFTP (SSH Secure File Transfer)
  • Port - 22
  • Username - the username of the account you're connecting to. 

Some software lets you lets you create a "connection profile," which lets you save settings (including the above, other settings, and sometimes your password) so you don't have to type it all in every time you want to connect.

Uploading and Downloading

Most SFTP software has a two-column layout.  The side that is labeled "Local" shows you the contents of folders on your computer.  The side labeled "Remote" shows you files and folders on the server.  Make sure that you've navigated to the proper folder in both the Local and Remote columns before you start uploading and downloading things.

  • To upload an item - drag it from the Local side, over to the Remote column.
  • To download an item - drag it from the Remote side, over to the Local column.

Cyberduck is a notable exception to this.  It displays only the "remote" view.  To upload and download items, you can either "drag 'n drop" them in and out of the Cyberduck window, or use the "Action" menu in the top menu-bar.

Software-specific Help

All of the software products mentioned maintain their own help and support sites.  See the following links for more.