Using Filezilla to Transfer and Manage Files Securely on your VPS
If you are an individual looking for the best way to easily manage the files on your first virtual private server (VPS) and feel intimidated by a command line, then you will be happy to learn that FileZilla will provide you with just what you need. A user-friendly graphical, Fileslla can easily securely transfer files to-and-from and also move files around inside your VPS.
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There are two very common methods of securely transmitting information between two computers:
- Secure Shell (SSH)
- Transport Layer Security (TLS),
These, as well as predecessor Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), cryptographic protocols.
Both are public-key cryptography tunnelling protocols which aim to make a secure, confidential exchange of data and connection across a network, specifically the internet. The encryption technology used by two of the protocols are both quite reliable, and once they are configured correctly, they are almost impossible for hackers to break into. Even though the protocols supply similar services, they might not be the same. They, in fact, have significant differences which are beyond the scope of this article.
As of today, OpenSSH is the default software package found on Unix-like operating systems such as Mac OS X and Linux. This means programs or subsystems that are based on the SHH protocol are going to work ‘out-of-the-box’ without needing to go through the extra steps of either buying or creating the requisite SSL certificate required for some modes of secure data transmissions using TLS/SSL.
FTP vs. SCP vs. SFTP vs. FTPS
Whenever you have to upload or download files from your VPS in real time, you will be able to do so with the following options:
- File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
- Secure Copy Program (SCP)
- SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP)
- FTP over TLS/SSL (FTPS)
FTP *not secure
Along with the several file transfer options, it is recommended to never connect to a remote server with FTP. SCP and SFTP are just as simple to use, but grant a lot more security. Additionally, as the FTP needs the installation of FTP server software like vsFTP or ProFTP, both SCP and SFTP are capable of utilizing the SSH protocol, which should result in working ‘out-of-the-box’ after connecting to a remote Unix-like machine.
SCP vs. SFTP
Considering that both SCP and SFTP make use of the SSH protocol by connecting to a different computer, both of the methods are fairly equal when it comes to security. SFTP has a small edge when it comes to efficiency, since an interrupted file transfer could resume exactly where it left off, in the case of a broken connection which is later reconnected.
SFTP vs. FTPS
SFTP should not be confused with FTPS, since both of the methods are incompatible with each other. As FTPS could allow equal security, it can need extra steps to deploy in case one does not already have a hold of an SSL Certificate.
There are quite a few quality SFTP clients available such as Cyberduck, Filezilla, or WinSCP to name a few. However, this article’s main focus is FileZilla, an open source and free FTP client for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. In addition to having the option to download the program, the ‘filezilla-project.org‘ site also includes a documentation Wiki along with a Support Forum.
When using SFTP, you will be provided with two user-authentication options once connecting to a cloud server: passwords or SSH keys.
SFTP via SSH2 Key-based Authentication
FileZilla has a built in key management page located in the Settings dialog, this will allow you to save your Public SSH key and then securely automate the procedure of connecting to a remote server.
FileZilla has a built in key management page located in the ‘Settings’ dialog which will allow you to save your Public SSH key and then securely automate the procedure of connecting to a remote server.
Before you start with this step, make sure you have hold of an SSH key pair, otherwise you will be required to create one.
Follow these steps after you have obtained an SSH key pair, use it in order to connect to your VPS:
- Open The FileZilla client.
- In the top of the home screen, click on ‘Edit’ and afterwards go to the ‘Settings’.
- Look to the left side of the menu, then expand the ‘Connection’ section and then highlight ‘SFTP’.
- Next, click on the ‘Add keyfile…’ button and search your local machine’s directories before choosing the Private Key file.
- Now, again from the top of FileZilla’s home screen, click on ‘File’ and choose ‘Site Manager’.
- Lastly, on the left side of the Site Manager, click on the ‘New Site’ button and write a unique name under ‘My Sites’ which should allow you to easily identify this specific remote server in the future.
What we do now is go under the General tab and fill in the Host with either an IP address or FQDN, the default port is 22.
When in the Protocol dropdown menu, choose ‘SFTP – SSH File Transfer Protocol’ then, in the ‘Logon Type’ dropdown menu, go for Interactive.
PuTTY’s Pageant Tool
If you would like to have a password-protected key file, FireZilla has the capability of utilizing PuTTY’s Pageant tool.
- Startup Pageant then, in your system tray, you should see the Pageant icon appear.
- Next, right click on the icon and select ‘Add Key’, then select your private key ‘.ppk’ file.
- Now, follow the prompt in order to enter your passphrase.
- End with launching FileZilla and connecting to your VPS using SFTP with SSH2, type in your username and an empty password. Note: close pageant after you are done.
Editing Text Files
When managing your VPS, it is inevitable that you will encounter a case where certain programming (text) files need to be edited. FileZilla does not include a built-in text editor which allows you the freedom of using any text editor of your choice. Many people choose the known editor among Windows users, which is ‘Notepad++’ since it is lightweight and is capable of working with many of today’s popular programming languages.
As default, FileZilla is configured to use your local system’s default editor; if you are not interested in having Notepad++ as your system’s default text editor but would rather use it to modify HTMl, XML, Python, CSS, PHP, among many other programming files located on your VPS.
- When you are on the FileZilla home screen, click on ‘Edit’ and choose ‘Settings’.
- On the left side of the ‘Settings’ window, highlight ‘File editing’.
- Afterwards, choose the ‘radio’ button associated with ‘Use custom editor’ and click on the ‘Browse’ button.
- Now, look for your wanted editor’s executable, .exe on Windows machines, double-click it and then click the ‘OK’ button in order to save the changes and close the settings window
This is all you will need to know about FileZilla and how you may manage files at ease on your VPS.