WinSCP, a staple tool for secure file transfers, offers more than just a graphical user interface. The WinSCP command-line functionality allows IT professionals and sysadmins to manage and automate file transfers directly from the console, enhancing efficiency and flexibility in their workflow.
To learn the ins and outs of the WinSCP GUI, check out this post’s complementing post, The WinSCP GUI: The Ultimate Guide.
Discover every command-line feature WinSCP offers in this Ultimate Guide. You’ll learn, step-by-step, how to leverage the WinSCP command line to maximize your productivity and streamline your file transfer processes.
Let’s dive into the world of command-line file management with WinSCP!
Prerequisites for Using the WinSCP Command Line
- A Windows XP+ PC – This tutorial will use Windows 10 Enterprise.
- A remote Linux host – This tutorial will use an Ubuntu 18.04.5 LTS machine.
- A user account on the remote SSH host with sudo permissions.
Generating a Session URL with the WinSCP Command Line
While the WinSCP GUI offers a convenient Login window for setting up connections, the WinSCP command line requires a different approach. Instead of interactive windows, you must specify connection attributes in a more direct manner.
To instruct the WinSCP command line on where to connect, a session URL is used. This URL encapsulates the connection attributes defined in the GUI.
A basic session URL follows this structure:
<protocol>://<username>:<password>@<host name>/<folder path>
For example, to connect to the
18.104.22.168 host with username
adam and password
pw using SFTP in WinSCP, the session URL would be:
If you’ve set up a WinSCP site, you can easily find the session URL. Open the WinSCP GUI, click on Session, right-click your site, and select Generate Session URL/Code.
The Session URL dialog box provides various customization options for your connection, each influencing how WinSCP interacts with the remote host.
- Initial directory – Specifies the remote directory that WinSCP opens upon connection.
- SSH host key – Uses an existing SSH key for remote host authentication.
- WinSCP-specific URL – Generates a unique session URL, like
WinSCP-sftp://, specifically for WinSCP’s understanding, avoiding conflicts with default web browsers.
- Save extension – Often paired with WinSCP-specific URLs to further minimize application conflicts.
When all options are enabled, the session URL format should resemble the following:
<protocol>://<username>:<password>@<host name>/<folder path><save extension>
Mastering the WinSCP Command-Line: Generating Session Connection Code
With your session URL ready, WinSCP goes a step further by offering code examples in the Generate session URL/code window’s Script tab. Here, you can select from different script types:
- Script file
- Batch file
- PowerShell script
Choose your preferred script type, and WinSCP will generate the necessary syntax for connecting to a remote host using the WinSCP command line.
For coding in .NET, C#, or PowerShell, switch to the .NET assembly code tab, as depicted below.
Understanding WinSCP.exe vs. WinSCP.com in the WinSCP Command Line Context
Knowing how to generate a session URL is crucial for using WinSCP command line tools. Let’s explore how to connect to a host using these tools, starting with understanding the differences between winscp.exe and winscp.com.
Winscp.exe doubles as the GUI launcher and a command-line utility for simple tasks. You can use it for basic commands if you specify the right parameters.
Think of winscp.exe as a bridge between the GUI features and command-line interface of WinSCP.
For more complex tasks, especially in scripting, winscp.com is your go-to. This console-based tool is ideal for automation scripts and supports a range of SSH functions. It provides a true, non-interactive WinSCP command line experience.
Regardless of your choice, begin by opening a command prompt (either cmd.exe or PowerShell) and navigate to the WinSCP installation directory.
cd 'C:\Program Files (x86)\WinSCP'
With the command prompt ready, let’s proceed to using WinSCP for remote connections.
Utilizing WinSCP.exe: Connecting to Remote Hosts with Session URLs
One of the simplest methods to connect to a remote host with WinSCP command line is by running winscp.exe with the session URL as a parameter. For instance, to connect to the
22.214.171.124 host with username
automate and password
sftp, and then navigate to the /tmp directory, use the following command:
WinSCP.exe sftp://automate:[email protected]/tmp/
For enhanced security, instead of using a password, you can connect to a remote host using a private key with the
/privatekey parameter. While this method is more secure, the intricacies of setting up a private key fall beyond the scope of this tutorial on the WinSCP command line.
Here’s an example of connecting to the
126.96.36.199 host using the username
automate and a private key
winscp.exe scp://[email protected]/tmp/ /privatekey=mykey.ppk
Efficiently Downloading Files with WinSCP.exe Without a Site
The WinSCP command line via winscp.exe allows you to swiftly transfer files using ad-hoc connections, even without a predefined WinSCP site. Let’s explore downloading files from a remote host without a site configuration. For example, downloading all files in the /tmp directory of the remote host 188.8.131.52 using SFTP.
1. Start by generating a session URL. Below is an example connecting to the remote host with the credentials
automate and landing in the /tmp directory.
# Generated Session URL
2. Run winscp.exe with the session URL to access the WinSCP transfer settings dialog box. The local directory defaults to ~\Documents, and WinSCP will target all files (
\\*.*) in the remote directory.
# Command Syntax: winscp.exe [/path/[file]]
winscp.exe sftp://automate:[email protected]/tmp
3. Click OK to initiate the transfer. WinSCP will download all files from the remote /tmp directory to your chosen local directory over SFTP.
Uploading Files Using WinSCP.exe Without a Site
After mastering file downloads, let’s switch to uploading files to a remote host using the WinSCP command line with winscp.exe. The process is similar to downloading, but this time you’ll also need to use the
/upload switch, specifying the file or folder you wish to upload.
# Uploading the file a.txt using winscp.exe to the remote server without a site.
.\WinSCP.exe sftp://automate:a[email protected]/tmp/ /upload C:\Users\shanky\Desktop\a.txt
Executing the command above brings up the WinSCP upload dialog, indicating the files to be uploaded (
*.*) to the remote host’s /tmp directory.
After uploading, log into the remote host with an SSH client and verify the upload success with commands like
ls -lh, which will display the directory contents, confirming the successful transfer.
Leveraging WinSCP.exe for Downloading Files Using a Site
While session URLs are practical for ad-hoc connections, having a pre-configured WinSCP site simplifies the process. If you’ve been utilizing WinSCP for some time, you’re likely to have several sites already set up.
With winscp.exe, you can easily utilize these sites, created in the GUI, to connect to a remote host, bypassing the need to remember session URL details.
To locate saved sites in WinSCP, navigate to Session -> Sites -> Site Manager.
For instance, let’s explore downloading files using a pre-existing site with the WinSCP command line.
1. Connect to the remote host using a configured WinSCP site. The example below demonstrates a connection using a site named
# Connect with a WinSCP site
Once connected, WinSCP displays a status notification.
2. Next, execute winscp.exe with the protocol (
sftp), site name (
Adamsite), and target directory (
/tmp). This approach brings up the WinSCP transfer settings dialog box, ready for file download actions.
# Initiate remote connection using a site
Click OK to start downloading all files from the /tmp directory of the remote host to your local directory via SFTP.
For uploading files from your local machine to a remote host, the process is analogous. Use the
/uploadswitch along with the file or directory path, like
winscp.exe Site3 /upload .\license.txt. Full URL specification (
sftp://Adamsite/tmp) is not necessary.
Streamlining Remote File Editing with WinSCP.exe
Need to edit a text file on a remote host? Skip the manual download-edit-upload cycle. The WinSCP command line offers a more efficient method using the
/edit parameter. Simply specify the site name,
/edit, and the remote file path.
# Editing a file on a remote host
winscp.exe /edit /Adamsite/path/to/file.txt
# Using the WinSCP command line to edit a remote file
.\WinSCP.exe Adamsite /edit /tmp/a.txt
Executing the command above launches your default text editor, allowing you to modify the remote file as needed. This seamless integration is a key feature of the WinSCP command line capabilities.
After editing, simply save the file. WinSCP takes care of updating the file on the remote host, streamlining the edit-upload process.
Optimizing Workflow with WinSCP.exe Session Logging
For a comprehensive record of your actions, the WinSCP command line offers session logging. This feature is invaluable for tracking the commands executed during a session, aiding in troubleshooting and record-keeping.
To enable session logging, include up to three parameters when connecting to a session:
# Parameters for session logging
/log="<log file path>" /loglevel=<level> /logsize=<size>
/log– Specifies the path for the log file.
/loglevel– Sets the verbosity of the logs, ranging from Reduced (
1) to Debug (
/logsize– Defines the size and rotation of the log file, in the format
<total archived logs>*<max log file size>.
Below is an example of winscp.exe connecting to a host and logging activity to
C:\winscp.log at a Debug level. The command maintains up to five 10MB log files (
# Example of WinSCP session logging
winscp.exe sftp://[email protected]/tmp/ /log="C:\\winscp.log" /loglevel=2 /logsize=5*10M
Exploring Advanced Features with WinSCP.com Interactive Commands
While winscp.exe provides a great introduction to remote connections, winscp.com elevates your command line experience, offering deeper interaction and control.
Begin by opening winscp.com in a command line environment. You’ll enter an interactive session reminiscent of SSH, indicated by the
Connect to a remote computer using the
open command, followed by the desired site name.
After connecting to the remote host via WinSCP command line, as illustrated with
Adamsite, you’ll find yourself in an environment akin to an SSH session. Here, you can execute commands and interact with the remote host efficiently.
Enhancing Security: Connecting with a New Key Pair (Host Key) in WinSCP
Public-key authentication enhances security when connecting to sessions. To use it, first obtain the host key fingerprint for your session. Use the
ssh-keygen command in the WinSCP folder following the syntax below.
This command generates an SSH key pair, essential for secure authentication. Once executed, you’ll receive a fingerprint necessary for winscp.com session connections.
ssh-keygen -l -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key
To connect with the
hostkey parameter, provide the generated fingerprint as shown in the example below.
Include the prefix
ssh-rsa 2048when using the fingerprint from
winscp.com open sftp://automate:[email protected]/ -hostkey="ssh-rsa 2048 x4DeZzv4jcWEk2zeeJgr5JeJ+z0xA+lGa3LC0q/B+88="
Maximizing Efficiency with WinSCP.com: Using the
While interactive sessions are great for certain tasks, non-interactive command execution is crucial for scripting and automation. winscp.com supports this through the
/command parameter, enabling you to establish a session, execute a command, and disconnect in a single step.
For example, use the
/command parameter to transfer a local file to a remote host. The example below demonstrates copying a file from C:\abc\abc.txt to the /tmp directory on the remote host
/command parameter takes two arguments as strings: one to establish the session and another for the actual command execution.
# Non-interactive file transfer using WinSCP
WinSCP.com /command "open sftp://adam:[email protected]/tmp" "put C:\\abc\\abc.txt"
Session log for [email protected]
C:\abc\abc.txt | 0 B | 0.0 KB/s | binary | 0%
Automating Tasks with WinSCP.com: The
For more complex automation needs, the
/script parameter in winscp.com allows you to execute a series of commands from a script. This feature is invaluable when managing repetitive tasks or complex operations on remote hosts.
To utilize the
/script parameter in WinSCP command line, start by creating a script file named upload_file_script.txt on your desktop with your preferred text editor.
Prepare a blank text file named a.txt in the /tmp directory of your remote computer.
Create a local directory at C:\abc.
Next, input the following contents into upload_file_script.txt and save it. This script downloads the a.txt file from the remote /tmp directory and re-uploads it as new_file.txt.
# WinSCP Script for File Transfer
open sftp://automate:[email protected]/ -hostkey="ssh-rsa 2048 x4DeZzv4jcWEk2zeeJgr5JeJ+z0xA+lGa3LC0q/B+88="
get a.txt C:\abc\
open sftp://automate:[email protected]/ -hostkey="ssh-rsa 2048 x4DeZzv4jcWEk2zeeJgr5JeJ+z0xA+lGa3LC0q/B+88="
Execute this script using the
/script parameter in WinSCP with the following command:
/ini=nulswitch to prevent WinSCP from saving any session configurations upon exit.
winscp.com /ini=nul /script=upload_file_script.txt
a.txt | 10 B | 0.0 KB/s | binary | 100%
# New session for upload
C:\abc\new_file.txt | 0 B | 0.0 KB/s | binary | 0%
Utilizing WinSCP.com for Key Conversion
WinSCP supports password and certificate-based or public-key authentication. To use public-key authentication, a compatible private key format is required. WinSCP assists in converting key formats for compatibility.
For instance, convert a PEM format private key (like those from AWS EC2) to a Putty-friendly format using WinSCP command line. The
/keygen parameter in winscp.com facilitates this conversion.
- Apply the
/keygenparameter, followed by the key’s current path.
- Include the
-oparameter to specify the output file path of the converted key.
- Optionally, use the
-cparameter to add a comment to the converted key.
.\WinSCP.com /keygen C:\Users\shanky\Desktop\testing.pem -o C:\Users\shanky\Desktop\testing.ppk -c "Converted from OpenSSH format"
With this comprehensive guide to the WinSCP command line, alongside the WinSCP GUI Guide, you’re now equipped to fully leverage WinSCP’s capabilities. Whether it’s file transfers, command execution, script running, or key conversions, WinSCP is a versatile tool for any IT professional.
How do you plan to integrate WinSCP into your workflow? Share your thoughts and experiences!