SSH Protocol Features

SSH is a highly flexible protocol, and many different types of services can use it. The protocol's open architecture allows these services to run at the same time without impeding one another.

An SSH client and server can transfer files using the protocols SCP and SFTP, which run on top of an established SSH session. While SCP is the old Unix rcp utility transplanted onto a different transport, SFTP is a flexible remote file access protocol that can be used in advanced ways. SFTP is better standardized and widely supported, so often software that provides an SCP-like interface really uses SFTP instead.

Note that SFTP is unrelated to FTP, or to FTP over TLS/SSL. The protocols are independent and very different.

A frequently used service is the remote console. This involves allocating a channel within the SSH session, which is then used as transport for a terminal protocol such as vt100 or xterm. The client displays to the user a console window within which the user can execute command line programs on the server.

SSH also provides exec requests. An exec request executes a program on the server like a remote console, but without expectation of interactive input. Exec requests are useful for automated remote administration.

Another popular SSH function is port forwarding, or TCP/IP connection tunneling. With SSH port forwarding, it is possible to secure a TCP/IP connection established by an independent application that would otherwise be vulnerable to network attacks. To learn more, check out our introduction to port forwarding.