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How To

Install and Setup SFTP Server on Ubuntu

This step by step tutorial shows how you can install and configure a SFTP server on your Ubuntu system.

Sagar Sharma

If you are looking for a reliable way to transfer files over the network, SFTP is one of the best choices you have!

SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) is nothing but a secure extension of SSH which is used to connect securely over remote networks for file transfer.

Sure, you can use the SFTP with the configuration but by default, every user can access the SFTP which comes as a security threat.

So it is a good idea to configure the SFTP for enhanced security and control!

And in this guide, I will walk you through step by step how to install and set up an SFTP server on Ubuntu.

How to install and setup SFTP server on Ubuntu

As I mentioned earlier, the SFTP is part of the SSH and for the installation, all you need to do is install SSH on Ubuntu.

So if you haven't installed it already, you an use the following:

sudo apt install ssh

That's it! You have the SSH installed on your system.

Step 1: Creating a new user group for SFTP

By creating groups in Linux, you can easily manage permissions of users so here, I will be creating a new user group.

To create a new group in Linux, you can use the addgroup as I mentioned:

sudo addgroup [group-name]

Here, I will name my group sftp and I would recommend you to do the same so you can use my commands directly without any changes:

sudo addgroup sftp
create a nee user group in Ubuntu to setup SFTP

Step 2: Create and configure a new user

Once you are done with creating a new user group, it's time to create a new user account and make it secure with the password.

To create a new user in Linux, you'd have to use the useradd command in the following manner:

sudo useradd [username]

Here, I'm going with the roy:

sudo useradd roy

Once done, add a password for the user using the passwd command:

sudo passwd [username]

For me, the username is roy, so I will be using the following:

sudo passwd roy
change password of the user in ubuntu

Once done, add the user to the group using the usermod command in the following manner:

sudo usermod -a -G [group-name] [username]

In my case, the group name was sftp and the username was roy so my command would look like this:

sudo usermod -a -G sftp roy

Step 3: Create and configure a directory for SFTP

To store files, you have to have a directory so in this section, I will walk you through how you can create and configure a directory for SFTP.

Here, I will create a new directory named Files inside the /var/sftp.

But here's a condition, the target directory (/var/sftp/Files in my case) must be owned by the user that you created recently (roy in my case) and its parent directory /var/sftp must be owned by the root!

So first, create a new directory inside the /var/sftp using the following:

sudo mkdir -p /var/sftp/[directory-name]

As I mentioned earlier, I will be going with the Files as a directory name:

sudo mkdir -p /var/sftp/Files

Now, let's change the ownership of the parent directory to the root:

sudo chown root:root /var/sftp

Next, change the permissions for the same directory by giving all rights to the root and others can only read and execute:

sudo chmod 755 /var/sftp

And finally, change the ownership of the directory you've created for SFTP for the recently created user:

sudo chown [username]:[default_usergroup] /var/sftp/Document

In my case, the username was roy and the directory name was Files so, my command would look like this:

sudo chown roy:roy /var/sftp/Files

Step 4: Make changes to the SSHD config file

In this step, I will show you how you can configure the sshd config file to enhance protection and restrict access to the created directory and sibling shell access.

First, open the sshd config file using the following command:

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Go to the end of the file in the nano text editor using Alt + / and paste the following (Make sure to change the group name if you used anything apart from sftp):

Match group sftp
ChrootDirectory /var/sftp
X11Forwarding no
AllowTcpForwarding no
AllowAgentForwarding no
ForceCommand internal-sftp
configure SSHD config file to setup SFTP in Ubuntu

Once done, save changes and exit from the nano text editor.

Now, let me explain the meaning of each line used above.

  • Match group sftp allows you to specify settings for the specific group.
  • ChrootDirectory /home: It ensures that the user won't be able to access anything apart from /var/sftp.
  • X11Forwarding no: By disabling the X11 port forwarding, you can save yourself from the vulnerabilities of the X11.
  • AllowTcpForwarding no: Ensures that the user can not create arbitrary network connections from the SFTP server.
  • AllowAgentForwarding no: It is a security measure and ensures that any compromised server cannot misuse the client's SSH keys.
  • ForceCommand internal-sftp: It forces the connection to run upon the login and disables the shell.

To take effect from the changes you've made, restart the service using the following command:

sudo systemctl restart ssh

Step 5: Verifying the SFTP configuration

You can start by trying to log in as a user with SSH you created for the SFTP and it will throw an error by saying "This service allows sftp connections only".

For example, here, I tried with my user roy to log in with SSH:

This service allows sftp connections only

Now, use the sftp command instead of ssh and it will get you into the SFTP prompt:

sftp username@IP
log in to the SFTP server in Ubuntu

And if you will use the ls command to list the contents of the current directory, it will only show the directory that you assigned it:

list file contents of the directory using the ls command in ubuntu

And here you have your SFTP server working!

Want to check vulnerabilities in your server?

If you are managing a mainframe server, it is necessary for you to check the current vulnerabilities, and for that purpose, you can use OpenVAS.

And for that purpose, we have a detailed guide on how you can use OpenVAS to check vulnerabilities of your system:

How to Check Linux Server Vulnerabilities with OpenVAS
OpenVAS is a free and open source tool to check Linux systems for known vulnerabilities. Learn how to get started with OpenVAS.

I hope you will find this guide helpful. And if you have any queries, feel free to ask in the comments.

Sagar Sharma