Linux SCP Command to Transfer Files Securely

Filed Under: UNIX/Linux

As a Linux user or Systems administrator, transferring files in a secure manner between different Linux systems is crucial. This safeguards vital information which could be intercepted and stolen by hackers. In this guide, you will learn how to transfer files securely using the Linux SCP command.

What is the Linux SCP command?

SCP, short for Secure Copy, is a protocol that is used to securely copy files and directories to remote servers/client systems. It comes built-in with SSH that offers encryption and privacy to information that is exchanged between systems. It’s much better in terms of security than the telnet command.

Let’s now look at some of the example usages of SCP command.

Basic Syntax of scp command

The most basic syntax of SCP usage is as shown below:

scp source_file_name username@destination_IP_address:destination_folder

Above command is used to transfer local files to a remote server. We can also transfer remote files to the local server using the below syntax.


scp username@remote_host:remote_file_folder local_folder

There are other additional options that you can use to give you the desired output. But first, let’s have a look at SCP usage without any options.

SCP command usage without any additional options

To begin with, let’s start with the basic usage of the SCP command. In my current directory, I have a file called linux_for_beginners.pdf. I’m going to send this file to a remote host 66.152.163.19. To achieve this, the command will be

scp linux_for_beginners.pdf root@66.152.163.19:

If this is your first time connecting to the host, you will get the output as shown in the output below. You will be prompted for the remote host’s password and upon typing it, the file will be copied on the root folder of the remote host

Sample Output

transfer files with scp command

SCP command with -p option

When used with -p option, SCP provides connection speed, and estimated time used to complete the transfer the file.

For instance,

scp -p Exercise1.txt root@66.152.163.19

Sample Output

Scp command With -P option

Display detailed information about SCP process

To print a more detailed output when running SCP, use the -v flag. This prints out verbose output.

For example,

scp -v Course1.pdf  root@66.152.163.19:

Sample Output

display more detailed information using -v option

Limit bandwidth using -l option

Another useful option is the -l parameter that allows you to limit bandwidth usage.

For instance,

scp -l 400 report1.txt root@66.152.163.19:

The value 400 is in Kilobits Per second. So basically, you are limiting the file transfer of the file to 400Kbps or 50 Kilobytes per seconds give that 8 bits are equal to 1 byte.

Sample Output

Limit Bandwidth Using Scp L Option

Copy directories recursively

If you want to copy files inside directories, use the -r flag to copy the directories recursively as shown

scp -r documents root@66.152.163.19: 

Sample Output

Scp Copy Recursively

Copy files from a remote server to a local server

In some cases, you may need to copy files from a remote Linux system to your current local Linux system.
This is possible using the syntax.

scp username@remote-host:/remote/path /localpath

For example, to copy a file file1.pdflocated on the home directory of root user on a remote server IP 173.82.240.103 to a local system on /tmp/files path, the command will be:

scp root@173.82.240.103:file1.pdf /tmp/files

Sample Output

copy files from remote system to a local server

Supress any diagnostic messages/warnings/progress meter

You can choose not to display any diagnostic messages, warnings or progress meter when running SCP. To achieve this, use the -q option as shown.

scp -q file1.pdf root@66.152.163.19: 

Sample Output

Scp  Supress Progress Indication

We have come to the end of this article. We hope that you’ll now be confident in sending files security between Linux systems. Feel free to get back to us with your experience.

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