Using SCP and SFTP

For some situations you may want to use a secure method to issue commands or copy files to the switch. By opening a secure, encrypted SSH session and enabling ip ssh file transfer, you can then use a third-party software application to take advantage of SCP and SFTP. SCP and SFTP provide a secure alternative to TFTP for transferring information that may be sensitive (like switch configuration files) to and from the switch. Essentially, you are creating a secure SSH tunnel as a way to transfer files with SFTP and SCP channels.

Once you have configured your switch to enable secure file transfers with SCP and SFTP, files can be copied to or from the switch in a secure (encrypted) environment and TFTP is no longer necessary.

To use these commands, you must install on the administrator workstation a third-party application software client that supports the SFTP and/or SCP functions. Some examples of software that supports SFTP and SCP are PuTTY, Open SSH, WinSCP, and SSH Secure Shell. Most of these are freeware and may be downloaded without cost or licensing from the internet. There are differences in the way these clients work, so be sure you also download the documentation.

As described earlier in this chapter you can use a TFTP client on the administrator workstation to update software images. This is a plain-text mechanism that connects to a standalone TFTP server or another switch acting as a TFTP server to obtain the software image files. Using SCP and SFTP allows you to maintain your switches with greater security. You can also roll out new software images with automated scripts that make it easier to upgrade multiple switches simultaneously and securely.

SFTP is unrelated to FTP, although there are some functional similarities. Once you set up an SFTP session through an SSH tunnel, some of the commands are the same as FTP commands. Certain commands are not allowed by the SFTP server on the switch, such as those that create files or folders. If you try to issue commands such as create or remove using SFTP, the switch server returns an error message.

You can use SFTP just as you would TFTP to transfer files to and from the switch, but with SFTP, your file transfers are encrypted and require authentication, so they are more secure than they would be using TFTP. SFTP works only with SSH version 2 (SSH v2).


SFTP over SSH version 1 (SSH v1) is not supported. A request from either the client or the switch (or both) using SSH v1 generates an error message. The actual text of the error message differs, depending on the client software in use. Some examples are:

Protocol major versions differ: 2 vs. 1
Connection closed

Protocol major versions differ: 1 vs. 2
Connection closed

Received disconnect from <ip-addr> : /usr/local/libexec/
sftp-server: command not supported
Connection closed

SCP is an implementation of the BSD rcp (Berkeley UNIX remote copy) command tunneled through an SSH connection.

SCP is used to copy files to and from the switch when security is required. SCP works with both SSH v1 and SSH v2. Be aware that the most third-party software application clients that support SCP use SSHv1.

The general process for using SCP and SFTP involves three steps:

  1. Open an SSH tunnel between your computer and the switch if you have not already done so.

    (This step assumes that you have already set up SSH on the switch.)

  2. Execute ip ssh filetransfer to enable secure file transfer.
  3. Use a third-party client application for SCP and SFTP commands.