Use Secure Copy Protocol (SCP): A Complete How-To Guide

The Secure Copy Protocol (SCP) is a widely used method for securely transferring files between a local and a remote host. Developed as part of the SSH protocol suite, SCP provides encryption and authentication capabilities, ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of data during transmission. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the various aspects of SCP, including its usage, options, and best practices.

Overview of SCP

SCP operates over SSH (Secure Shell), utilizing the same authentication and security mechanisms. It provides a secure alternative to traditional methods like FTP (File Transfer Protocol) by encrypting both authentication credentials and data transmission.

SCP allows users to copy files and directories between two hosts on a network. It supports both interactive and non-interactive modes, making it suitable for one-time transfers as well as automated tasks.

Basic Usage


The basic syntax of SCP is as follows:

scp [options] [source] [destination]
  • [options]: Various options to modify SCP behavior.
  • [source]: The file or directory to copy from.
  • [destination]: The location to copy to.


To copy a file named example.txt from the local machine to a remote host:

scp example.txt username@remote_host:/path/to/destination

To copy a file from a remote host to the local machine:

scp username@remote_host:/path/to/file /local/path/destination

SCP Options

SCP provides several options to customize its behavior:

  • -P port: Specifies the port to connect to on the remote host.
  • -r: Recursively copy entire directories.
  • -p: Preserves the modification times, access times, and modes of the original files.
  • -v: Verbose mode, providing detailed output for debugging.
  • -i identity_file: Specifies the identity (private key) file for authentication.

Advanced Usage

Copying Directories

To copy entire directories and their contents, use the -r option:

scp -r directory username@remote_host:/path/to/destination

Specifying Port

If the SSH server on the remote host operates on a non-standard port (not 22), use the -P option followed by the port number:

scp -P 2222 example.txt username@remote_host:/path/to/destination

Using SSH Keys

SCP supports authentication using SSH keys, providing a more secure and convenient method than password-based authentication. To use SSH keys, specify the private key file using the -i option:

scp -i ~/.ssh/private_key example.txt username@remote_host:/path/to/destination

Verbose Output

For debugging purposes or to gain more insight into the transfer process, use the -v option:

scp -v example.txt username@remote_host:/path/to/destination

Security Considerations

  • Authentication: Always use strong authentication methods such as SSH keys instead of passwords.
  • Encryption: SCP encrypts data during transmission, but ensure that the SSH configuration is secure to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Firewall Rules: Make sure necessary firewall rules are configured to allow SCP traffic.
  • File Permissions: Set appropriate file permissions to restrict access to sensitive data.


SCP is a powerful and secure tool for transferring files between hosts in a networked environment. By leveraging the SSH protocol, it ensures data confidentiality and integrity during transmission. Understanding its usage and options empowers users to efficiently manage file transfers while maintaining security. Incorporate SCP into your workflows to streamline file management tasks with confidence in data security.