How to use linux file manager to connect to an sftp server

If fear of the command line has kept you from using the more secure sftp, Jack Wallen wants to show you how you can easily connect to this remote server, with a simple file manager.

Image: Jack Wallen

Secure Shell has a lot to offer. Not only does it allow you to easily administer your Linux servers remotely (via the ssh command), but it also includes a more secure version of File Transfer Protocol (FTP). So instead of risking transferring files through insecure means, you can use SSH, via sftp.

The sftp command is fairly straightforward. Open a terminal window and log in with the command ssh USERNAME @ IPADDRESS (Where USERNAME is the actual remote user name and IPADDRESS is the address of the remote machine). Once connected, you can then download files to your local machine with the command get FILENAME (Where FILENAME is the name of the file). You can download files with the command put FILENAME (Where FILENAME is the name of the file).

But what if you don’t want to work with the command line? Maybe you find the GUI a more efficient tool. If this is you, you’re in luck, as most Linux file managers (such as GNOME Files, Nautilus, Nemo, Thunar, Dolphin, Pantheon Files, etc.) all have built-in support for SSH and its tools. included. With that in mind, you can enjoy an sftp GUI experience, without having to install a third-party solution (such as FileZilla).

As you can imagine, this is quite easy to achieve. I will show how to connect to a remote Ubuntu 16.04 server, via the sftp protocol, using both Elementary OS Pantheon files and GNOME files (on Ubuntu 17.10).

What you will need

Obviously you will need a server running openssh-server. You will also need openssh installed on the client machine. Fortunately, almost all Linux distributions come with openssh installed by default.

In case you haven’t installed these tools, they can be added easily. I will demonstrate on my platforms of choice. The server side of things requires the command:

sudo apt install openssh-server

The command on the client side is:

sudo apt install openssh-client

Once you’ve got everything installed, you’re good to go.

Make the connection

I’ll do a demonstration on Pantheon Files, but the process is similar on most Linux file managers. To establish the connection, open your file manager. Click in the navigation bar then type sftp: // SERVERIP (where SERVERIP is the IP address of the remote server –Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Connection to the sftp server via Pantheon Files.

Press Enter on your keyboard and you will be prompted to enter the remote user’s SSH login information. Once you have successfully authenticated you will find yourself in the / directory of the remote machine. Obviously you can only work in directories that the user has permission to, so navigate to such a directory and then you can use this file manager to copy / paste files to and from the remote server.

If you’re using Ubuntu, the process is very similar – the difference being that you need to click Other Locations first, then enter the remote address at the bottom of the window (Number B).

Number B

Number B

Connection via sftp in Ubuntu 17.10.

The power and flexibility of Linux

You would be hard pressed to find a more powerful and flexible platform than Linux. The SSH toolset is a perfect example of the flexibility of Linux. And with the help of a good file manager, you can see how user-friendly that flexibility can be. If you need to upload and / or upload files to a remote server, don’t bother with the less secure FTP protocol and go straight to SFTP. Your data will thank you.

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Donald E. Hollingsworth