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HTTPS vs. SFTP: The Key Differences

HTTPS vs. SFTP: The Key Variations

What Are the Key Differences Between HTTPS and SFTP?

HTTPS and SFTP are both important protocols used for the act of sending data. However, there are innate differences between them. Read more for a look at the key differences between HTTPS and SFTP.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is a secure way to send data between a web server and a web browser. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP, the primary protocol used for sending data between a web browser and a website. HTTPS is encrypted by SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) in order to increase the security of data transfers and prevent websites from having their information broadcast in a way that’s easily viewed by anyone with negative intentions.

Any website, especially those that require login credentials, should use HTTPS. In modern web browsers such as Chrome, websites that do not use HTTPS are marked differently than those that are. Look for a green padlock in the URL bar to signify the webpage is secure.

How Does HTTPS Work?

HTTPS defines the format of messages through which web browsers and web browsers communicate and it defines how a web browser should respond to a web request.

It’s a stateless protocol which means each instance of communication is treated as an independent event and no session information from previous requests is retained by the receiver.

Any website, especially those that require login credentials, should be using HTTPS. You can tell if a website has implemented SSL/TLS by looking at the URL, as the SSL/TLS certificate enables websites to move the URL from HTTP to HTTPS. In modern web browsers such as Google Chrome, websites that do not use HTTPS are marked differently. Look for a padlock in the URL bar to signify the webpage is secure.

What is SFTP?

SFTP, also known as FTP over SSH (Secure Shell) is a secure FTP protocol designed for secure file transfer.

SFTP helps you transfer data within and outside of your organization safely with the knowledge that your information is protected.

How Does SFTP Work?

SFTP sends files over SSH and provides organizations with a higher level of file transfer protection. SFTP implements AES, Triple DES, and other algorithms to encrypt data that flows between systems.

SFTP offers several ways to authenticate a connection – with a user ID and password, SSH keys, or a combination of a password and SSH keys. This provides organizations with a high level of protection for file transfers shared between their systems, trading partners, employees, and the cloud.

SFTP is simple to implement and is more friendly to today’s client-side firewalls since it only requires a single port (port 22) to be open for sending controls and for sending or receiving data files.


Although the security models are very different – SSL/TLS for HTTPS, and SSH for SFTP – they are both very secure protocols. HTTPS has a slight advantage in that it relies on a widely used trust model to validate the domain name of servers that are being connected to.

Certificate authorities issue SSL/TLS and validate they’re in fact issued to the owners of the domain name. Therefore, users can have some degree of confidence when they’re connecting to a website that it’s the correct one. SFTP uses keys that are not issued by a certificate authority – the server’s public key must be issued directly to users by the server administrator.

There is also a small difference in speed. HTTPS may have a small advantage over SFTP, but this will depend on client implementations.

If your scenario involves users who need to download only, HTTPS is probably the best choice. However, if more sophisticated file transfer is required, use SFTP. For larger file transfers (especially uploads) we recommend SFTP. Because HTTPS is a stateless protocol and a new connection may be required for each transfer, it may not be the best fit if a large number of files need to be transferred.

SFTP is your best option for transferring files securely if:

  • Your trading partner requires SSH Public Key authentication
  • Your trading partner or firewall teams prefer a single port to be leveraged
  • You need to comply with federal regulations

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