My point here is this: every IT professional and practitioner needs a good FTP client (and possibly server) in their corner. Whether you’re building a site or sharing files, FTP provides ease and capacity unavailable in simple computer-to-computer transfers. The popularity and long history of this protocol means there are lots of players in the game—FTP clients for Windows, FTP clients for macOS, FTP clients for mobile, free FTP clients and paid FTP clients—and the right one for you depends on the client’s features and your needs. We’re here to help you sort through the clutter with the following list. Don’t have time to read through top FTP programs? My top pick is the SolarWinds® Serv-U® Managed File Transfer Server solution if you need reliable, business-level capabilities.
What to Keep in Mind When Choosing FTP Client Software
File Transfer Protocol is necessary when you’re communicating with a server. It’s the FTP client software that initiates the request of the server. That’s typically relevant when you’re building or maintaining a website but could also matter when transferring large files that can’t be stored on RAM. (This latter use has become less popular with the rise of cloud computing.) For smaller data transfers, going machine-to-machine is still fine.
A note on security: FTP was developed before cybersecurity was the concern that it is today, so data is sent unencrypted. That might be fine if you’re just hosting whitepapers for download or transferring non-private information. But if you have any sensitive documents or your industry has privacy regulations, using an unsecured connection could be a PR headache at best and regulatory negligence charges at worst.
That’s why Secure FTP, or SFTP, was developed. (FTPS is another, less common, encrypted form of FTP.) In fact, FTP and SFTP are often used interchangeably now, though you shouldn’t assume this is the case when choosing your client; verify that you’re getting SFTP if you need it.
Why pay for a top FTP program when there are so many popular free versions? As we’ve noted previously in this blog, “Open-source is only free if your time is worthless.” That’s a bit harsh, but the message is important: open-source and free proprietary options aren’t going to provide the support and customization of a paid service and team. You’ll spend a lot of time learning, customizing, and maintaining the program yourself, and it still might fail sometimes. This should be foremost on your mind if regular, secure, and reliable data transfer is mission-critical for your business and not just tangential.
Best FTP Client Overall
With SolarWinds Serv-U Managed File Transfer (MFT) Server, you get all the business-level capabilities you need at the affordable price you’ve come to expect from other Serv-U product offerings like Serv-U File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Server.
Like FTP Server, Serv-U MFT provides total control over your file transfers—even 3GB+ files—within your organization, over both web and mobile devices. It simplifies file transfer for users with single drag-and-drop features. I’d say the real advantage here is the intuitive dashboard that allows central control and customizable automation abilities (and the ability to look over activity logs as needed).
And of course, you get the crucial security features you need and expect for business functions, like Active Directory integration and authentication features. Files can be transferred over FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and HTTP/S protocols, over both IPv4 and IPv6 networks. Designed to deliver reliable and secure file transfers, this file transfer tool focuses on helping you ensure regulatory compliance for PCI DSS, HIPAA, and other standards that require secure data transfers. Serv-U MFT can take loads off your plate and keep your system running smoothly.
Best Free FTP Client for Windows
WinSCP is like the Honda Civic of FTP clients—ubiquitous, relatively reliable, and affordable (free, in fact, because it’s open-source), all-in-all a decent option for a variety of users. It supports the SFTP protocol for added security and supports SCP (as the name suggests), as well as WebDAV and Amazon S3. WinSCP has an integrated text editor and allows for remote editing, which is then uploaded to the server automatically when saving, making editing a snap. And there are three portable versions, including one for Linux.
A few drawbacks: it’s built on Windows, so Mac users are out of luck. And if you use UNC to organize files on a LAN, WinSCP isn’t compatible with that either. Plus, some users criticize WinSCP’s odd keyboard command layout and the inability to customize shortcuts. (A minor gripe, but I bet it will annoy you after a while.)
Runner-Up, Best Free FTP Client for Windows
FileZilla might be the undisputed champ of open-source FTP clients if not for some unfortunate moves and PR. It works for Windows, macOS, and Linux, has drag-and-drop, tabbed interface, bookmarks, and remote editing as well as file search. Out since the early 2000s, FileZilla has racked up thousands of happy users and supporters.
But the program’s host, SourceForge, earned some ill will when it started bundling FileZilla downloads with adware or using deceiving tactics to get users to download unwanted programs. Some users even claimed malware was loaded onto their computers. Current versions still contain ads on update pages, so be careful. And in 2014, it was revealed that fake versions of FileZilla were loaded with malware that was stealing login credentials, so you should make sure you are downloading a legit version.
Best Free FTP Client for macOS
At first glance, Transmit might not seem like a standout. Like other competitive FTP clients, it supports FTP, FTPS, SFTP, Amazon S3, or WebDAV protocols, and integrates easily with Amazon Drive, Backblaze B2, DreamObjects, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft OneDrive for Business, OpenStack Swift, and Rackspace Cloud Files cloud storage accounts. Transmit is also great for automated syncing.
What makes Transmit special? It does all this for macOS. In a field dominated by Windows FTP clients, this is easily the best FTP client for macOS. And as proprietary freeware, you get the updates and guidance of a paid service without spending a dime.
Runner-Up, Best Free FTP Client for macOS
Cyberduck is another big name among the best free FTP clients, especially among FTP clients for macOS. (There is also a Windows version, but because Cyberduck was built on macOS, its features are macOS-leaning.) It supports FTP and SFTP, WebDAV, OpenStack Swift, Amazon S3, Backblaze B2, and Microsoft Azure. Users love its simple and friendly graphic interface with drag-and-drop (for bookmarks too) and its support of dozens of languages. Cyberduck doesn’t have a built-in text editor but integrates with whichever your favorite is. And it allows for remote previewing of some files without downloading them.
However, that simple and easy user interface might not be sufficient for some power users. And though this is a free open-source program, it will prompt you for donations until you donate, which can get irritating.
FireFTP is unique in that it’s not a standalone desktop program, but an add-on for the Mozilla Firefox browser (although the creators now recommend using Waterfox). This adds a lot of convenience for Firefox power users, but not much advantage for everyone else. If you prefer trees of directories and lists of files to a more dressed-up user interface, FireFTP’s two-pane display is for you.
CuteFTP is one of the most popular paid FTP clients on the web. Reviews tout its ease of use and simplicity. Standouts include the automation of file transfers and the built-in editor (Scintilla). Thanks to a feature called Tappin, you can easily share files between desktop and mobile devices. Available for Windows, CuteFTP is free to try and costs $59.99 standalone, with an additional $30 for a year of maintenance and support.
CloudMounter works a little differently because it’s not exactly an FTP client. It’s more like a direct connection to your FTP server as if the server were a removable drive. So instead of complicated software and interfaces, all you have to do is open up Finder. Few other FTP clients can say that they make it as easy as plugging in a thumbnail drive. CloudMounter is free to try and costs $29.99 (or an additional $10 for a “lifetime upgrades guarantee”). It’s primarily known for its macOS version but is also available for Windows and Linux according to its website.
One More Time: The Best FTP Client
The best FTP software depends all on your needs and budget, but I highly recommend looking at paid services to ensure regulatory compliance, security, and reliability. Check out SolarWinds Serv-U MFT for the most reliable option—and with all the security issues that can arise with transfers, you shouldn’t take that reliability lightly.
Best Website Monitoring Tools 2020 – If you’re reading this article, you likely have a website to run. Monitoring is another important part of that and has a similar cost/benefit analysis between free and paid software.
Best Log Management Software 2020 – Time to update your strategy for log management? Here’s our 2020 list of tools with suggestions for every budget.