How to use FTP or SFTP and Select an FTP App

Websavers Inc

Choosing an FTP or SFTP application shouldn’t be a difficult process. This overview will suggest a great application that works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X called FileZilla. It will show you how to configure it to connect to your server, how to set up the appearance for the simplest usage, and then talk about some alternative applications you can make use of for Mac OS X.

Things you will need

  1. Your domain name
  2. Your FTP username and password. These differ from your client centre username and password.
  3. A general understanding of where things are located on your computer, such as where your user account folder is located

If you are working on the domain that we created automatically for you when you signed up with us, the system user FTP username and password can be found in your client centre by selecting “Services” in the menu, then clicking the manage button beside your hosting account. You may need to hover your cursor over the password to see the full credentials.

If you added the domain to Plesk yourself, then you would have been asked to enter in the username and password for the domain – these are the FTP credentials you will need.

If you forget your FTP username and password and cannot find them, please see our KB article on how to reset your FTP login details.

If you wish to create additional FTP users, here’s how.

Intro to FTPS and SFTP

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is one method of connecting to your server and uploading and downloading file content. FTPS is simply FTP with an SSL/TLS layer — meaning it’s a secured version of FTP.

Note that you can also use the Plesk File Manager to upload and download files; it is generally simpler to use, so we now recmomend that for most file management. When logged in to Plesk, just click the Files button in the main menu.

SFTP adds “SSH” (Secure SHell) to the front of File Transfer Protocol. If you are using your system user, the primary FTP account that’s automatically created when your hosting is set up, then we recommend using SFTP. Additional FTP users you create can only connect with FTPS.

In order to use SFTP with your systerm user account, you must have “Shell Access” enabled. We enable basic chrooted shell access on all our plans except Helium.

You can read more about the details of SFTP and FTPS connection settings here.

To verify that Shell Access is enabled for the domain you will be working on, do the following:

  1. Login to the client centre, choose My Services, click manage beside the hosting account you will be working on, then choose “Login to Plesk”
  2. Choose “Web Hosting Settings”
  3. If you have more than one domain, select the domain you will be working on in the list. If you have just one domain, ignore this step
  4. Under the “Account Preferences” section, look for “Shell access to server with FTP user’s credentials” and ensure it is set to anything that is not “Forbidden”

If you are unable to change this option, you will probably need to upgrade your account.

Where to Find FileZilla Client

FileZilla is a great free FTP and SFTP capable application for Mac, Windows and Linux. It is available here for download. Ensure you download the Client application, not the Server. For Mac OS X there are better applications in terms of user interface design, although they are not free. More on this later.

Download and install FileZilla now to get started with it.

Configuring FileZilla to be Less Confusing

There are a few user interface elements that are bound to do nothing but confuse you. To avoid possible confusion, choose the View menu, then uncheck “Local Directory Tree” as well as “Remote Directory Tree”. Also uncheck “Message Log” (also under the View menu). You may need this for troubleshooting, so remember where it is.

Connecting with FileZilla

At the very top of the window, you will see fields for Host, Username, Password, and Port. These are useful for one-time connections, but if you want FileZilla to remember your settings, then it would be better to save them as a bookmark so you don’t have to enter the details each time you open the application. The first button on the left in the toolbar is the Site Manager – this is how you save bookmarks to FileZilla. You can also find this under the File menu (File > Site Manager).

Open the Site Manager and click the New Site button. It will immediately request a site name – you can make this whatever you wish. On the right, enter your connection details as described in our FTP reference article.

Click Connect.

Understanding the FileZilla User Interface

FileZilla is really easy once you get the hang of it. Here’s the general idea:

Left Side: Local Computer

On the left is your local computer’s directory structure. By default it’s probably showing c: on Windows and / (also called root) on OS X or Linux. You will want to navigate to wherever your site’s files are located on your computer. If you used our application installer and don’t yet have your site saved on your local computer, then you probably want to navigate to your Documents or Sites folder and create a new directory where you will store your website.

On Windows Vista and 7, Linux, or Mac OS X, I suggest navigating to the Users folder, then your username, then the folder called Sites (if Sites doesn’t exist yet, why not create it?). Within the Sites folder, create a new folder by the name of your website. You can use this folder to store all your website content.

Right Side: Remote Server

Now that you have connected successfully to your server, on the right side you should see a list of directories like:


Although they each have their purpose, most of these can be ignored. The folder where all of your web content is stored is under the httpdocs folder. Don’t mistake this for the httpsdocs folder – this folder is for storing the web site content that is accessible when visiting In other words it’s for secure content only and only when Plesk is not set to use the same folder for secure and non-secure content.

Transferring Content

To upload your site content, simply drag and drop the items you wish to upload from the left pane to the right. The opposite is true to download – drag the items you wish to download from the right to the left. While the files are downloading or uploading, they will appear in the transfers pane at the bottom of the window. You will also be notified of any failures here.


If you cannot connect or cannot upload or download files, the reason why will be displayed in the message log. If you followed the direction to hide this above, then you will need to show it again to view the log. Go to the View menu and choose “Message Log” if it us unchecked. This puts the message log just below the quick connection details at the top of the window. You can see any error messages here – normally at the bottom of the pane.

If you cannot resolve the problem described by the error, please copy and paste the error you see in the message log into a support ticket so we can look into it. Please also include your connection details, including the hostname, username and password so we can reproduce the problem.

Alternative Applications

Although different applications have different user interfaces, all the core functionality described here remains the same. For Mac OS X there are three great alternative applications, one free and two paid. The alternate free application is called Cyberduck and is available here. Cyberduck is also available for Windows now.

Yet another alternative, Flow – $25 USD, makes your FTP/SFTP connections look like Finder windows for simpler drag and drop uploads and downloads.

The third alternative, and my SFTP and FTP application of choice is called Transmit – $34 USD and is made by the folks over at Panic software. Transmit has been around for many many years for the Mac and its latest incarnation, Transmit 4, is a fantastic application. If you intend to be working with file transfers regularly and you’re using a Mac, I highly suggest purchasing this software. The user interface is second to none and the featureset is extremely powerful. For example, Transmit has the ability to easily and simply mount one of your SFTP connections directly in to Finder so that uploads and downloads really are as simple as drag and drop in an already familiar manner. This is all managed through a cute menubar icon in the image of Transmit’s truck icon.

Transmit also has the ability to synchronize folders, making mirroring changes uploaded by others to the server and changes you made locally a breeze.

If you have a suggestions for a great FTP / SFTP application, please let us know! Use the comments below to leave your message.

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Jordan Schelew

Jordan has been working with computers, security, and network systems since the 90s and is a managing partner at Websavers Inc. As a founder of the company, he's been in the web tech space for over 15 years.

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Websavers provides web services like Canadian WordPress Hosting and VPS Hosting to customers all over the globe, from hometown Halifax, CA to Auckland, NZ.

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  1. Faculté des sciences on March 9, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you for this article

  2. Ken on February 18, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Well put together and clear document

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