curl supports a wide variety of protocols. Subsequently people who use curl get to chose which protocol to use based on other criterias. So how exactly do the various encrypted transfer protocols compare?
This document describes and compares SCP, SFTP, HTTPS and FTPS and it considers both upload and download, as none of the protocols differ very much for transports done in either direction.
SSH (RFC4251) is not drastically different than SSL on the lowest transport layer, where the actual encryption of the data is made. Block by block is encrypted with a key using a negotiated algorithm.
SSH uses no certificates and there's no CAs or chain of trust based on certs. In SSH you trust the hosts for which you have a known public key. And you know that key because you connected to the host before, or you got it sent to you.
The SSH based protocols do suffer when used on high latency high bandwidth networks compared to SSL based ones, due to the packet-back-and-forth concepts.
- Simply a pipe over SSH. This requires that there's a scp command on the remote host that supports the exact options the local clients assumes it does. Which thus means virtually no portability.
- A sub protocol over SSH basically providing a full set of fs primitives. Exists in many versions, but most clients and servers don't implement much of the most recent ones.
- Not at all similar to FTP (except the name), and is only using the single TCP connection.
- The actual transfer of a single file is a bit ineffective network-wise, since you need to request chunk-by-chunk and get a response with status back. There's no "give me the entire file" approach. As a result, you need to make a more complicated approach to send out multiple outstanding requests to keep the pipe saturated and thus achieve maximum throughput.
- Not an RFC yet, only an expired draft exists!
SSL is basically about encrypting the data using a negotiated algorithm. It features a trust concept with certificates, where clients decide to trust servers to be who they claim to be on the basis that their certificates are signed by Certificate Authority that the client trusts. The use of cacerts is widely misunderstood or even misused.
The differences between FTPS and HTTPS are pretty much the exact same differences as between FTP and HTTP. The SSL part just makes the data streams being encrypted by the sending end.
- FTPS is FTP that either starts out using SSL already from the start (so called implicit FTPS), or it "upgrades" its connection to use SSL (known as explicit FTPS).
- A common problem with FTPS is that since the control connection is encrypted, stateful firewalls that are otherwise often used for plain FTP to allow for the second data connection (remember that it opens up that connection dynamicly to a non-fixed port number) can't figure out what port number or network address it wants to use.
- Suffers from the fact that it was made into a proper standard spec (RFC4217) only recently - October 2005.
- Most widely used out of these quite possibly because this is the primary encrypted protocol supported by all major and minor web browsers.
- Due to it being "secure" HTTP, it was designed to be proxied over a HTTP proxy fine.
A related area is encrypted p2p networking protocols. I've yet to research and learn about what's available and how they work before they can be added to this comparison in any good fashion. Please tell me if you have insight knowledge. Links: Anomos.
Feedback and improvements by: Tomas Salfischberger, Joe Born