Comparing (S)FTP Clients for Mac

In Apple & Software door Benjamin

I’ve been using Cyberduck for the last couple of years as my main FTP client. I don’t really know why I chose Cyberduck back then but probably because it’s free and it was the first one I found. Although it really misses a dual pane local/remote view, I also never bothered looking for another FTP client, free or paid.

FTP Client test on Mac

A couple of months ago however I bought ForkLift in the Mac App Store (MAS) to use as an alternative for Finder and noticed ForkLift also has FTP capabilities.

After trying ForkLift’s FTP capabilities I felt like it left Cyberduck in the dust. Amazingly fast. The problem with ForkLift is that it’s more focused on Finder type stuff than FTP capabilities.
For example Forklift won’t let you set any “skip rules” for files like .DS_Store, .svn or .git and it won’t allow you to auto-change permissions for files and folders on upload, which I use allot.

But the difference in speed was significant enough to convince me to look around for other FTP clients to see how they stack up against Cyberduck.

Ultimately I decided to take the following clients for a test drive: Cyberduck, Transmit, ForkLift, FileZilla and Coda (I know Coda isn’t really an FTP client).

Test setup

All tests where done twice, both results where then added up and divided in 2. All tests where done over SFTP, which is the connection type I use most. Generally speaking FTP is it bit faster because it doesn’t use encryption. My maximum up- and download speed is about 18-22 Mbps. I kept my connection as unused as possible, thus pausing DropBox, CrashPlan and wireless Timemachine backups.

I’ve done 2 different test. The first being with one single large file, and the second with a folder containing php, html and image files organized in subfolders.

Single file test results

FTP Client Test Result
Single file test was done with a 550.60 MB tar.gz file. (Time in min.sec format)

The overall difference isn’t that big. Almost all apps, except Coda, maxed out my connection limit at about 2.3-2.6 MB/sec. Coda seems to slow down half way into the transfer.

Multi file test results

SFTP Client Test Result
Multi file test was done with a folder of 137.9 MB containing 5529 items.

In the multi file test ForkLift is killing every other app. FileZilla, as ugly as it is, is also pretty darn fast! Transmit and Coda really disappointed me on this test. Cyberduck is particularly slow on downloads.
Fun fact; Progress bars (or Coda’s circle) are a complete joke on multi-file transfers, Coda and Transmit are way too optimistic in the beginning of a transfer, ForkLift is way too pessimistic in the beginning and Cyberduck bounces from fast to slow and back during the entire transfer. FileZilla was most aqurate…since doesn’t have any overall progress bar, it only shows progress for the current file in transfer.

FTP Footnote

I also did a small side-test over FTP (instead of SFTP) between Transmit and ForkLift with the same multi-file folder. Transmit is one or two minutes faster in every test, compared to it’s SFTP results. After 5 attempts transferring the same folder over FTP with ForkLift I still wasn’t able to get a full error free transfer (both up and down). So while it kicks ass in SFTP mode, it was pretty unstable in FTP mode. Not once did it transfer all 5529 files.

My conclusion

While ForkLift is king of the hill speed wise, especially in multiple-file tests, it still lacks some FTP features as mentioned above. Every transfer starts slow, like it’s doing pre-transfer calculations or something, but when it goes, it goes, making it the fastest in all multi file tests. It also has other features which make it a great Finder replacement, such as excellent multi-rename and app-deletion.

Coda isn’t a full featured FTP client, but it’s from the same company as Transmit, so I did expect the result the be more in line with Transmit. It was a bit disappointing to see it score so badly while Coda is advertised as having “Transmit’s twin turbo engine”.

FileZilla....well…it’s fast, but after installing and setting it up, I already knew I was only going to use this if it was at least 4 times faster then any other client. It’s ugly, really ugly…it’s UI is so busy it may even cause damage to your eyeballs. It also the most un-mac like app and has some weird quirks, for example drag-and-drop from desktop to remote window is ok, drag-and-drop from remote to desktop isn’t? It’s still free though and it’s also available for Windows and Lunix, so if you use other OS’es that might be a plus. FileZilla, like ForkLift also won’t let you set skip file rules, or auto-change persmissions on upload.
It’s also worth mentioning that FileZilla keeps your passwords in an unencrypted XML file on your HD, it doesn’t use Keychain, also note that the file does not get deleted when you delete FileZilla, you have to manually delete the hidden .filezilla folder from your user directory (Macintosh > Users > USERNAME).

Cyberduck is an overall solid app, but again, misses dual pane mode, and their “View” options are not up to par with ForkLift and Transmit. It’s freely available from it’s website, but also for $25 in the MAS. Cyberduck is also available for Windows.

Eventually I went and bought Transmit from the MAS to use as my main SFTP Client, while still keeping ForkLift as a backup app (just not for daily transfers). It has by far the best UI and I’m also a happy Coda user which is also from Panic. It’s not as fast as ForkLift unfortunately, nowhere near as fast actually. But it has all functions I search for in an FTP client plus some other stuff I have yet to really test (sync, droplets and others). It is however Mac only, and the most expensive at $34 dollars.

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