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SFTP on Mac: step-by-step instructions on how to do it

SFTP on Mac: step-by-step instructions on how to do it

Transferring files securely between computers is a critical task for anyone working with sensitive information or large files. Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is a robust method for such transfers and is available on Mac OS, offering encryption and enhanced security. In this article, we’ll explore how to use SFTP on a Mac for seamless file transfers, highlighting the use of Mac Terminal and the third-party Commander One app. Whether you are a developer, a graphic designer, or just someone keen on maintaining the integrity of your files during transfer, mastering SFTP on Mac can be incredibly beneficial.


Common Scenarios:

Transferring Large Files Securely πŸ“¦

  • Setting up an SFTP connection using the Mac Terminal.
  • Use secure practices while transferring business or client data.
  • Ensure integrity and privacy of files during the transfer process.

Managing Remote Servers πŸ–₯

  • Accessing and managing files on a remote server via SFTP.
  • Maintaining websites or web applications hosted on remote servers.

Streamlining Workflows for Developers πŸ‘¨

  • Integrating SFTP commands into development workflows.
  • Automating file transfer processes within a development environment.

Step-by-Step Guide. Enable And Use SFTP On MacOS:

Method 1: Using Mac Terminal πŸ› 

  • Open the Terminal app on your Mac. You can find it in the Utilities folder within the Applications folder, or simply search for it using Spotlight.
  • Type the command sftp username@hostname, replacing ‘username’ with your SFTP account username and ‘hostname’ with the SFTP server’s domain or IP address.
  • Enter your SFTP password when prompted. You’ll then be connected to the SFTP server.
  • Use commands like ‘put’ to upload files and ‘get’ to download files. Remember to specify the correct paths for the files you wish to transfer.

Note: Keep your SFTP credentials secure and never share them with untrustworthy sources.

Conclusion: This method is best for those familiar with the command line interface and who require a quick and direct method for file transfer.

Method 2: Using Commander One πŸ–₯

  • Download and install Commander One, a dual-panel file manager for Mac that provides SFTP support.
  • Open Commander One and navigate to the ‘Connections’ menu.
  • Select ‘Add connection’ and choose ‘SFTP’.
  • Enter your SFTP server details, including server address, username, and password.
  • Once connected, you can drag and drop files to and from the server within the Commander One interface.

Note: Commander One offers a user-friendly interface that simplifies file management across local and remote servers alike.

Conclusion: Ideal for users looking for a robust graphical interface to manage their SFTP transfers with additional file management features.

Useful info: The best way to upload big files to Amazon S3.

Method 3: Using Cyberduck πŸ¦†

  • Download Cyberduck, a free, open-source client for file transfers that supports SFTP.
  • Launch Cyberduck and click on the ‘Open Connection’ button.
  • Select ‘SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol)’ from the dropdown menu.
  • Fill in your SFTP server details, including server, username, and password.
  • Drag and drop files between your Mac and the server once the connection is established.

Note: Cyberduck integrates well with macOS and offers a friendly UI for those less comfortable with the command line.

Conclusion: Cyberduck is a versatile option suitable for a broad range of users, from beginners to experts, providing an intuitive approach to SFTP file transfers.

Method 4: Automating Transfers with Scripts πŸ€–

  • Create a Bash script with the necessary SFTP commands to automate file transfers.
  • Store your script in a secure location on your Mac.
  • Use cronjobs or another scheduling tool to run your SFTP Bash script at predefined intervals.

Note: It’s essential to protect your script files, especially if they contain login credentials.

Conclusion: Scripting is powerful for regular, automated processes, significantly aiding in efficiency and consistency for developers or system admins.

Method 5: Using ForkLift 🚚

  • Install ForkLift by downloading it from BinaryNights.
  • Open ForkLift and use the ‘Connect to Server‘ feature.
  • Choose SFTP and input your server details.
  • Transfer files using the dual-pane interface for an organized workflow.

Note: ForkLift is specifically designed for macOS and offers features such as syncing and remote editing.

Conclusion: ForkLift is another excellent alternative for users who prefer a more macOS-centric tool with additional productivity features.


Precautions and Tips:

Enhance Your SFTP Game πŸš€

  • Always verify the server’s fingerprint the first time you connect to an SFTP server for security.
  • Enable public key authentication for a more secure method of connecting to the SFTP server, avoiding password prompts.
  • Regularly change your SFTP passwords and use complex passwords to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Maintain backups of your files. Even with secure file transfers, having a backup is a crucial step in data security.

Streamlined File Management 🧩

  • Organize your files and directories for easy navigation both locally and on the remote server.
  • Use an SFTP client that supports bookmarks or remote editing for efficient server management.
  • Check your connection’s stability to prevent incomplete file transfers, especially when handling large files.

SFTP Best Practices

When it comes to secure file transfer, using SFTP on Mac is a prudent choice. However, it’s not only about how you transfer the files but also about maintaining the best practices throughout your file management processes. Using strong encryption, choosing reputable SFTP clients, and being vigilant about network security are paramount.

It’s wise to keep abreast of changes in SFTP and SSH protocols by visiting authoritative resources such as the OpenSSH website or the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) where standards are discussed and developed.

Furthermore, consider contributing to the open-source community if you’re an experienced developer. Tools like Cyberduck and other SFTP clients often rely on community support and contributions.


SFTP is a vital tool for anyone transferring files on Mac. Whether through the native Terminal app, the feature-rich Commander One, or the open-source Cyberduck, users can enjoy secure and efficient file transfers with SFTP. Automation through scripts can save time, and applications like ForkLift provide additional functionality catered to the MacOS experience. Remember always to adhere to security best practices and consider your workflows to choose the most suitable SFTP method for your needs.


Open System Preferences, navigate to Sharing, and check the Remote Login box. This turns on SSH, allowing SFTP access.

For SFTP, you can use the built-in Terminal app, or third-party apps like Cyberduck (

Yes, in the Terminal, type sftp username@hostname replacing 'username' with your username and 'hostname' with the server's address.

After connecting via SFTP, use the put command to upload files, and get to download files to your local machine.

Yes, with the -a option in the sftp command, you can append or resume partial transfers of files.

Yes, you can use applications like FileZilla ( or Cyberduck for a graphical interface for SFTP.

Ensure you're connecting to the right server, utilize a strong password, and consider using SSH keys for added security.

SFTP may be slower than other protocols for large file transfers and doesn't support server-to-server file copying.

Within an SFTP session, use the cd command followed by the directory name to change directories.

Directly editing files isn't typically supported in SFTP. Download the file, edit locally, then re-upload using the put command.