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How do I transfer files with WinSCP?

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  • SFTP programs and other software are available through the ITS Software page.

WinSCP is a popular Secure File Transfer application (SFTP) for Windows computers which also includes support for SCP file transfers, and the ability to create secure tunnels via SSH. This page contains basic instructions for getting started using WinSCP to transfer files between your computer and a remote server.

About FTP & SFTP

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. This protocol provides a standard way to transfer files between computers, regardless of the operating system on each computer (Windows, DOS, Macintosh, UNIX, etc.). It is the most common protocol used for exchanging files between computers on the Internet. Secure FTP (SFTP) is similar to FTP, but with SFTP the entire session is encrypted, so that passwords are never sent in the clear, and are therefore much less vulnerable to interception.

Please note that not all web servers accept SFTP connections. WinSCP can be used with any server that does accept SFTP connections.

Get WinSCP

Qualified NYU community members can download a free copy of WinSCP from the ITS Software page. Log in with your NYU NetID and password if prompted, click the link to download the software, then double click the installer icon on your desktop to complete the installation.

Connect to an SFTP Server

When you start WinSCP for the first time, a dialog box automatically opens to create a new connection. Use the mouse or the tab key to move among fields.

  1. In the Host name field, enter the name of the computer on which you have an account. This name usually appears after the @ symbol in your email address.
  2. Leave the Port number field at its default setting.
  3. Enter your User name and Password in the appropriate fields (WinSCP displays the password as dots).
  4. In the Protocol area, make sure that SFTP (allow SCP fallback) is selected.
  5. screenshot of the WinSCP login screen
  6. Click the Login button.
  7. You may get a warning box informing you that the server's host key is not cached in the registry (see screenshot below). If you are confident that you are connecting to a secure host, click Yes. A connection will be established and a session window will open.

    Note: This warning is part of a WinSCP security measure designed to protect against "spoofing"—the redirecting of your connection to a different computer without you knowing it—an illegal tactic used to capture your private information. WinSCP records the host key for each server you connect to and checks that the host key is the same the next time you connect. However, when you connect to a server for the first time, WinSCP has no way of verifying the host key, so it asks you to confirm that you trust the host.

  8. WinSCP Warning

File Transfer with WinSCP

Once connected, the WinSCP window contains information about the local and remote computers. Files and directories on your local computer appear in the left panel. Files and directories on the remote computer appear in the right panel. To navigate among directories, double click on a directory name. To move up a level in the directory structure, double click on the parent directory icon at the top (a folder containing an up arrow, followed by two dots).

To transfer a file from the remote server to your local computer (download):

  1. In the left panel, open a directory folder or location on your computer to which you want to download the file.
  2. In the right panel, click once on a file or directory folder name to select it.
  3. Download the file or folder by using the mouse to drag the remote file to your local directory, by pressing the F5 function key on your keyboard, or by right clicking the file you want to transfer and selecting Copy from the pop-up menu.
screenshot of the WinSCP interface

To transfer a file from your local computer to the remote server (upload):

  1. In the right panel, open the directory on the remote computer to which you want to upload the file.
  2. In the left panel, click once on a local file name to select it. Note: It is best to remove spaces, capitalization, and extensions from filenames before uploading them.
  3. Upload the file or folder by using the mouse to drag the file to the remote server panel, by pressing the F5 function key on your keyboard, or by right clicking the file you want to transfer and selecting Copy from the pop-up menu.

Set File Permissions

When uploading files to a remote server, you can decide whether other people will be allowed to access or edit specific files or entire directory folders. To do so, click the file or directory folder name to highlight it, then click the F9 Properties button at the bottom of the window. In the window that opens, select the access levels you wish in the Permissions section.

screenshot of WinSCP permissions screen

There are many combinations of permissions you can choose, but most commonly:

  • If you wish to make an individual file publicly accessible on the Web but not editable by people outside your group, set the permissions so that the file's "Owner" and "Group" can read (R) and write (W) to the file, but "Others" can only read the file, not write to it or execute (X) it. Note that individual files do not need to be executable; this setting is for entire directory folders (octal 664). Click OK when done.
  • If you wish to make an entire directory publicly accessible on the Web but not editable by others, set the permissions so that others can read (R) and execute (X) the directory, but not write (W) to it (octal 775). Click OK when done.

Additional Tips

  • To delete a file or folder, click the file or folder to highlight it, then click the F8 Delete button at the bottom of the window, or press the F8 function key on your keyboard.
  • To close the connection to the remote server, click the F10 Quit button at the lower left, or press the F10 function key on your keyboard.

SCP, SSH and Other Information

Complete help files for WinSCP, including SCP and SSH instructions, are available from the Help menu within the program, and in the Read Me file available on the WinSCP website: http://winscp.net/eng/docs/start/.

For general information about using FTP, including an explanation of FTP addresses and detailed information about file types, see http://www.nyu.edu/its/faq/ftp/general.html.

Page last reviewed: June 23, 2011