What is FTPS? | File Transfer Protocol Secure

What is FTPS (FTP Secure)

FTPS, or FTP Secure, is an extension of the traditional File Transfer Protocol (FTP). While FTP has been widely used for decades, it’s not inherently secure. FTPS was developed to address this issue by adding a layer of security to the data transfer process. It does so by encrypting both the commands and data transferred between the client and server, making it a safer alternative for file sharing.


How Does FTPS Work?

FTPS, or FTP Secure, works by adding a layer of security to the traditional File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to ensure that data transfer between a client and a server is safe and protected.

FTPS employs encryption protocols to ensure secure data transfer. There are two primary modes of operation: Implicit FTPS and Explicit FTPS. In both cases, a secure connection is established between the client and the server, but they differ in how this connection is initiated.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of how FTPS operates:

  • Establishing a Connection: FTPS begins by establishing a connection between a client and a server, just like regular FTP. This connection is made over a network or the internet.
  • Encryption: The key differentiator with FTPS is encryption. It employs encryption protocols to safeguard the data being transferred. This encryption is done in two ways:
    • Command Channel Encryption: The commands issued by the client to the server are encrypted, making it difficult for anyone to intercept or understand the instructions being sent.
    • Data Channel Encryption: FTPS also encrypts the actual data being transferred, such as files or documents. This encryption ensures that even if data is intercepted during transfer, it cannot be read or tampered with.
  • Modes of Operation:
    • Implicit FTPS: In this mode, the connection starts in a secure state by default. The client initiates the connection, and both the client and server immediately establish a secure link. This is often used when a high level of security is essential, such as for confidential or sensitive data transfers.
    • Explicit FTPS: In this mode, the connection initially starts in an insecure state. The client requests a secure connection explicitly by sending a command to the server. Once the server acknowledges this request, the connection is upgraded to a secure state. Explicit FTPS offers more flexibility and is commonly used when security is required but not as critical.

FTPS ensures secure data transfer by encrypting both the commands and the actual data. It provides a reliable method for sharing files and information while keeping them protected from unauthorized access or tampering.

Implicit FTPS

Implicit FTPS operates on a default secure connection. The client initiates the connection, and both parties immediately establish a secure link. This mode is often used for sensitive and confidential data transfers.


Explicit FTPS

In Explicit FTPS, the connection initially begins in an insecure state. The client then explicitly requests a secure connection by sending a command to the server. Once the request is acknowledged, the connection is upgraded to a secure state. Explicit FTPS is more flexible and is commonly used when security is required but not as critical.

Which Port Does FTPS Use?

FTPS uses two ports for data transfer, which varies depending on the mode.

  • Port 990: This port is commonly associated with Implicit FTPS.
  • Port 21: Explicit FTPS typically uses this port for initial connection setup.

The choice of port is based on the mode and the specific configuration of the FTPS server.



FTP is an outdated protocol that lacks encryption and is generally not recommended for sensitive data transfer over the internet due to security vulnerabilities.

FTPS is an improved version of FTP that adds encryption and security features. It provides a choice between Implicit and Explicit modes, making it a suitable option for organizations that need to maintain compatibility with existing FTP configurations.

SFTP is a secure and modern protocol that inherently offers encryption and secure data transfer. It’s a top choice for organizations seeking the highest level of security and is well-suited for sensitive and critical data transfers.

To better understand the role of FTPS in secure file transfer, it’s important to distinguish it from other similar protocols:

  • FTPS vs. FTP: As mentioned, FTPS is a secure extension of the traditional FTP. FTP, while widely used, lacks encryption and is less secure for transmitting sensitive data. FTPS is a safer alternative for those seeking a secure data transfer method.
  • FTPS vs. SFTP: Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is often confused with FTPS due to their similar acronyms. However, they are fundamentally different. SFTP is an entirely separate protocol, based on SSH, and offers secure data transfer by default. It’s a reliable choice for secure file sharing but requires a different approach for setup.

Use Cases of FTPS

FTPS finds application in various use cases where secure data transfer is essential:

  1. Backup and Recovery: Many organizations use FTPS for securely backing up and recovering critical data, ensuring that it’s protected from interception or tampering.
  2. Healthcare: Healthcare institutions often use FTPS to securely transmit patient records and sensitive medical information, complying with strict privacy regulations like HIPAA.
  3. Financial Institutions: Banks and financial institutions rely on FTPS to protect financial data during transactions and secure customer information.
  4. Government and Law Enforcement: Government agencies and law enforcement organizations utilize FTPS for secure communication and file sharing, safeguarding sensitive data from potential threats.
  5. E-commerce: E-commerce platforms employ FTPS to protect customer data, ensuring secure transactions and data exchange.

FTPS, or FTP Secure, is a crucial tool for secure data transfer in various industries and applications. It addresses the inherent security vulnerabilities of traditional FTP, offering two modes, Implicit and Explicit, with encryption to protect sensitive data. Understanding the distinctions between FTPS, SFTP, and FTP is essential for choosing the right protocol to meet your specific security needs.

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