If you’re searching for the best file-transfer clients on the market today, you’ve landed in the right place. Below, we detail our picks for uploading and downloading files in bulk between local computers and cloud servers.
Traditionally known as FTP clients, some software options today have long moved beyond that early protocol to support not only FTPS and SFTP, but WebDAV and API connections to cloud services like Amazon S3, Google Cloud and Rackspace Cloud Files. In addition to moving files, the best clients also sport a range of features from directory comparisons to file encryption.
While our favorite overall service is the popular — and free — Cyberduck, for those with a little money to spend, CloudBerry Explorer Pro offers an even greater range of features and a more satisfying user experience, overall. We’ll talk about both in a minute. First, let’s talk about file transfer protocols in general and take a look at how we made our selections.
What is FTP, Anyway?
The key to understanding what FTP is lies in the initials, which stand for “file transport protocol.” It’s a commonly used communication protocol, or set of rules computers use to communicate with each other over a TC/ICP network (like the internet).
In FTP communications, there are two endpoints: an FTP server and a client computer. The server listens for connection requests while the client initiates the connection. Once the connection is established, the client can upload files to the server, download files from it and perform various other operations like deleting and moving files around.
While clients mentioned in this article are often called FTP clients, FTP is actually outdated, mainly because it sends data in plain text. That was a bad idea in the 80s and it’s a much worse idea today given how sophisticated cybercrime has become. As such, you’re more likely to use one of two related protocols, FTPS or SFTP.
The Difference Between FTPS and SFTP
FTPS and SFTP are both more secure communication protocols than FTP, encrypting both data transmitted and the credentials (username and password) used to open communication channels.
FTPS was developed first, mainly in response to higher regulatory demands on data security thanks to acts like HIPAA. It’s basically FTP but with SSL encryption to protect data being moved over a TC/ICP network. SFTP, though frequently confused with FTPS, is a completely different protocol, based on secure shell (SSH).
You may also hear FTPS called “FTP over SSL” and SFTP called “FTP over SSH.”
Between FTPS and SFTP, the latter is considered easier to implement. The reason for that is that it only requires a single port to be opened in order to transmit data continuously through a firewall.
With FTPS, on the other hand, each time a file transfer request call is received, an additional port needs to be opened. Rather than being more secure, having to open multiple ports for communications can actually pose a security risk for your network.
As such, between the two, SFTP has become the more commonly used. It’s easier to implement, faster and more secure.
WebDAV and Cloud IaaS APIs
Most decent FTP clients can connect to servers using FTP, FTPS and SFTP. Better clients can establish other secure connection types, too.
One of the most common is WebDAV, which stands for World Wide Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning. WebDAV is actually a set of extensions added to HTTP with the purpose of facilitating collaborative editing over the internet by allowing web servers to act like file servers.
Several cloud storage services support WebDAV, including Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and our favorite of the four, pCloud (read our pCloud review). With WebDAV support, you can access, edit and delete files stored on your cloud storage drive without having to use that service’s web interface.
In addition to all of the connection protocols mentioned above, some FTP clients can also connect to servers using an API, short for “application programming interface.” API connections in FTP clients are built around specific cloud providers, usually of the cloud IaaS (infrastructure as a service) variety.
Cloud IaaS solutions are remote server solutions that can be used to host files (among other things, like building databases or hosting web-applications). Some common examples you might have heard of include Amazon S3, Rackspace Cloud Files and Google Cloud.
We run through all of our favorites in our best cloud IaaS guide, so be sure and check that out if you want to put the file-transfer clients we review in a moment to good use.
Picking the Best File-Transfer Client
All of that brings us to the crux of our article, making recommendations for file-transfer clients that we think are the best available. The top clients, as you might have guessed, have many more connection options than just FTP. FTPS and SFTP are usually a given, while WebDAV support and API connections to specific cloud services are less common.
Aside from connection options, we also looked for ease of use. A top FTP client makes it easy to establish a connection, browse, upload and download files, and hopefully has some other useful features like connection bookmarks, folder comparisons, file sync and file encryption.
We also looked for platform support. Many FTP clients, including some of those we mention below, are only available for Windows and Mac, and some are only available for one or the other. Only a few offer Linux support, like CloudBerry Explorer.
Value was a consideration, too. You’ll find many free file-transfer clients available and a few with one-time license fees, though those don’t usually range beyond $40 or $50.
Now that we’ve got all our criteria sorted out, let’s have a look at our favorite client for file transfers, Cyberduck.
Best File-Transfer Client: Cyberduck
We’d be quacks not to select Cyberduck as our top choice for file transfers. It pretty much does it all, not only supporting FTP, FTPS, SFTP and WebDAV, but API connections to multiple cloud drives. Those drives include IaaS options Rackspace Cloud Files, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Backblaze B2.
Versions of the Cyberduck desktop client are available for Windows and MacOS. Unfortunately, Linux users are left out in the cold, ugly ducklings that they are. (If you’re a Linux user in need of a pick-me-up, read our best cloud storage for Linux guide).
Cyberduck features we like include expected abilities like folders and file creation, uploading and downloading, but also some unexpected goodies. Top among those is an option to create privately encrypted folders in the cloud, plus an option to sync local with remote folders.
Cyberduck also has a tremendously useful “bookmark” feature that stores the details of your connection for fast access later on. Bookmarks can even be shared with other users. You can also create URL links to files to share them with others.
Cyberduck is free, open-source software. If you really like the product though, you can send a donation to the development team to support it. With a $10 dollar donation, you can register your software to disable the donation button in the client. There’s also a paid version of Cyberduck available via the Mac app store for $24.
- Free for Windows & Mac
- Multiple connection types
- Sync & encrypt files
- No Linux client
CloudBerry makes some of the best file-transfer software available, including a feature-packed online backup client capable of sending files to over 50 different cloud services. For more on that backup tool, read our CloudBerry Backup review.
The company also produces a line of cloud explorer tools, both free and paid. For FTP and SFTP transfers, you’ll need to buy the licensed “Pro” version of the software for a one-time fee of $39.99 per computer, which comes with many other features besides.
Also important, if you intend to use the client with a cloud IaaS service, you’ll need to purchase the version that works with your provider of choice:
- CloudBerry Explorer for Amazon S3
- CloudBerry Explorer for Google Cloud
- CloudBerry Explorer for Microsoft Azure
- CloudBerry Explorer for OpenStack
Each version can also connect to some additional cloud providers, at least. For example, the Amazon S3 version can be used with Backblaze B2 or Wasabi (read our Wasabi review).
Still, by forcing users to purchase a different license for each of the main cloud services, CloudBerry Explorer does lose some of its luster, which is why we rank it behind Cyberduck (along with the fact that it costs any money at all, of course).
If those points don’t dissuade you, though, CloudBerry Explorer Pro has a slew of useful features that make it the more powerful client, overall, and well worth the expenditure for some users. Features of note include client-side encryption, file compression, multi-threaded uploads, folder comparisons, folder sync and upload rules.
Of all the FTP and cloud clients we’ve reviewed, it’s easily the most fun to use, too, and CloudBerry has a much stronger support network than what you’ll get with Cyberduck. That makes it a better choice, especially for IT professionals and business owners.
Finally, unlike Cyberduck, CloudBerry Explorer comes in a Linux version.
- Sync & compare content
- Encrypt & compress files
- Excellent customer support
- Costs $39.99 for Pro version
- Separate software for different IaaS providers
Until recently, FileZilla didn’t amount to much of a Cyberduck alternative because it only supported FTP, SFTP and FTPS. However, in January 2018, the company brought WebDAV support to its FileZilla Pro client, in addition to connectivity to Amazon S3, Azure and Google Cloud.
The client can be used to move thousands of files in bulk from your computer to a remote server, or vice-versa, and is optimized for speed, though you can reduce bandwidth used if needed. The client features a streamlined, tabbed interface that makes it easy to establish connections and browse files.
Features of note include bookmarks for fast connections, filename filters, directory comparisons to identify deltas, directory synchronization, drag and drop, file editing and no file-size limits.
Filezilla Pro doesn’t have an encryption feature like you get with Cyberduck and there’s no Linux client, either. Maybe more importantly, it isn’t free: you’ll have to shell out $19.99 for the Windows version or $13.99 for MacOS. There’s a basic Filezilla client that doesn’t cost a dime but it’s not nearly as powerful as Filezilla Pro, so we suggest staying away.
- Multiple connection types
- Windows & Mac clients
- Compare & sync directories
- Not free
- No Linux client
- Can’t create encrypted folders
CuteFTP ranks as our fourth pick for an FTP client. In some very important ways, it’s a much less capable tool than our top three picks. For example, it’s strictly a client for FTP, FTPS, SFTP and WebDAV. There’s no Amazon S3, Google Cloud or connection support for any other cloud IaaS provider.
In fact, CuteFTP is a very basic FTP client overall, but sometimes that’s all you’ll need or want, which is why we decided to give it a spot in this article. It supports a few basic features like bookmarks, file compression and file encryption.
The software also features a built-in HTML editor to author HTML documents both on your computer and a remote server.
File backup and synchronization are included, too, along with file-transfer scheduling. Even so, there’s no file comparison feature like you’ll get with Cyberduck or CloudBerry Explorer.
The software is, however, 100 percent free, as it has been since its initial release way back in 1996. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Windows and Mac operating systems, with no Linux support.
- FTP, SFTP & WebDAV
- Completely Free
- File compression & encryption
- No cloud IaaS support
- No file comparison feature
- No Linux support
Developed by Panic Inc., Transmit is a file-transfer client designed solely for Mac users. While normally that fact would probably lead us to leave it off a list of “best” services (unless Mac specific, like our best cloud storage for Mac article), there’s enough to love about Transmit and few enough excellent alternatives that we decided to give it our fifth and final spot.
The most recent version of the software is Transmit 5. Transmit moved beyond just being an FTP client some time ago by adding WebDAV and Amazon S3 support. It’s most recent version takes that even further and it now supports over 10 cloud services.
Those services include IaaS providers Backblaze B2, Azure and Rackspace CloudFiles, though not Google Cloud. A handful of cloud storage services can be connected to as well, including Amazon Drive, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive (read our OneDrive review).
Of all the services we’ve reviewed, Transmit 5 might have the best-looking client, making it a shame there’s no Windows or Linux version. Local files are laid out one side of the interface and remote files are on the other.
The latest version of Panic’s client also features completely rewritten file-transfer code that’s far faster than the previous version, making it great for photo and video uploads. Other features of note include synchronization of local folders with the cloud and zero-knowledge encryption.
True to the spirit of Steve Jobs, however, the software does come with a somewhat hefty price tag of $45.
- Supports multiple connection types
- Fast file transfers
- File sync & encryption
- Mac only
- No Google Cloud support
There are a handful of FTP clients that we didn’t include, with WinSCP (Windows only) and Fetch (Mac only) probably being the two most popular. Both of those clients support FTP, FTPS, SFTP and WebDAV. However, neither support Amazon S3 or any other cloud services, placing them a bit behind the times.
On the other side of the spectrum is Dragondisk, a free file-transfer manager that supports Amazon S3 and Google Cloud but, oddly enough, not FTP, SFTP or FTPS. The overall design of Dragondisk feels a bit dated, too, but there is, at least, a Linux client.
Finding the best file-transfer client for your needs can make it easy to move files in bulk to and from the cloud, whether manually or via synchronization. While FTP, SFTP and FTPS are the old standby protocols, the best tools also feature WebDAV support, in addition to support for cloud infrastructure services like Amazon S3.
Among all the clients we’ve had a chance to play with, Cyberduck strikes us as providing the best combination of features and value. For those that don’t mind spending money, however, CloudBerry Explorer is a tough service to beat.
Share your own thoughts on file-transfer clients in the comments below and tell us options we’ve missed. As always, thanks for reading.