WinSCP - A capable, useful FTP client

Updated: August 20, 2021

When it comes to Windows applications, there's this weird dichotomy - or maybe it's a paradox, not sure. In some usage categories, there are almost infinite choices. In others, almost none. Take FTP clients for example. Now, this ain't the most common of usage models in the world, but if I want to upload stuff to some remote server, using say FTP or SFTP protocols (apologies for the recursion), then you are limited to a tiny arsenal of programs, as it happens.

One of the popular names is FileZilla. Indeed, for years, it featured on my lists of recommended software for Windows and Linux. I still do use it; the older versions, that is. Indeed, recently, there had been hurdles, including controversy surrounding the bundled version, which ships all sorts of (unneeded) extras alongside the core program. Even if one can get around the issue relatively easily, so to speak, this is tricky, because once trust is lost, it's very hard to regain, if ever. Thus, what do you do if you need an FTP client, and FileZilla does not fit the bill? Even for me, finding a suitable potential alternative slash replacement wasn't trivial, especially since it can take me weeks, sometimes months to evaluate tools before introducing them into my prod or semi-prod setups. The quest for the FTP client led me to WinSCP. Hence, this review.

Getting started

WinSCP stands for Windows Secure Copy, and it's a data transfer client, supporting several protocols (FTP, SFTP among them). You can also use scp to copy files. For Linux folks, ssh/scp is a familiar combo, and you get the functionality here, too. Then, the program also features a two-pane file manager GUI, with all the bells and whistles you need. Let's.

The installation is a bit long. First, you need to choose if you want to set up the program for your users only or for all users. Then, you can either use default or custom settings. I'd recommend you go with the latter, as it gives you a good overview of what gets installed. For instance, I found that I don't need translations. You can also choose the style (visual layout), and whether to allow automatic updates and anonymous usage statistics.

Install mode

Install type

Install details

Style

Additional tasks

Scipping around

I launched the program, and it looks and feels very FTP. If you used any one program of this nature, you'll be quite comfortable. Of course, there are tons of extra options, so you should go through everything, to make sure you have the right setup in place. The one thing that's missing in the default layout is the Session toolbar, which lets you quickly connect to any saved pre-defined remote locations.

Main view, two panes

Session toolbar

I had to add the session toolbar manually.

WinSCP supports FTP, SFTP, SCP, WebDAV, and even Amazon S3. You can connect to sites on the fly, or save the configuration (with or without the password) for multiple remote locations. There's also a password manager. Then, the application also allows you to use its built-in public-private key pair generator, if you don't want to use passwords. You can load saved sessions, as well as import/export any program configuration, which is quite handy for backups or if you're deploying the program on a different host.

Protocols

Generate key pair

Site tools

The interface is well laid out, smartly cluttered - you can't get around some clutter in a two-pane Midnight Commander world of GUIs. If you open the Preferences menu, you'll find a huge list of options. But most people won't necessarily need to change much. If anything, you can tweak the copy, delete and overwrite operations, as well as increase the number of simultaneous threads, if you have sufficient bandwidth. Because WinSCP lets you backup your configurations, you can create a template, then tweak away, and if you don't like something, just safely go back to the baseline.

Options 1

Options 2

Options 3

And that is all. At the end of the day, FTP client does what FTP clients do. Familiar interface, check. Enough option so I don't get stuck in an OCD loop, check. Robust settings and sufficient flexibility, check. Reasonable security, check. Happy bunny be a-hoppin' through the software fields.

Conclusion

Routine and habit can be dangerous, especially if you're a veteran nerd well set in your ways. When paired with proper dearth of choice in certain software categories, you could find yourself mulling massive operational changes in your setup, just to satisfy seemingly corner usage cases. FTP transfers are definitely one of the possible pitfalls for Windows users, especially if they feel they can't rely on the modest range of choices available to them.

Luckily, WinSCP seems to offer a way out of this conundrum, in regard and regardless of the competition and their potential foibles. If you need a tool that does a job well, without any great fuss and whatnot, WinSCP seems to be a powerful, capable FTP client, with some rather neat extras. It supports multiple protocols, you can backup your settings, and there's even a command-line. Nerddom complete. Anyway, should you ever need to copy some files to and fro, and you're running Windows, this could be the program for you. I like.

Cheers.

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