WinSCP Command-Line Simplified : Your Complete Reference

Published:28 November 2023 - 10 min. read

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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.

WinSCP command line: Connection attributes
Connection attributes

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 host with username adam and password pw using SFTP in WinSCP, the session URL would be:

sftp://adam:[email protected]

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.

WinSCP command line: Generating a session URL
WinSCP site

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>
WinSCP command line: Generate Session URL/Code
Generate Session URL/Code

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
  • Command-line
  • 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.

WinSCP command line: Generating Session Connection Code
Generating Session Connection Code

For coding in .NET, C#, or PowerShell, switch to the .NET assembly code tab, as depicted below.

WinSCP command line: .NET assembly code tab
.NET assembly code tab

Understanding WinSCP.exe vs. 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.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, 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 host with username automate and password automate using 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 host using the username automate and a private key mykey.ppk over scp.

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 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
sftp://automate:[email protected]/tmp

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.

WinSCP command line: Downloading Files without a Site
Downloading the Files without a Site

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.

WinSCP command line: Uploading Files without a Site
Uploading the Files without a Site

After uploading, log into the remote host with an SSH client and verify the upload success with commands like pwd and ls -lh, which will display the directory contents, confirming the successful transfer.

WinSCP command line: File Uploaded Successfully on Remote Machine
File Uploaded Successfully on Remote Machine

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 Adamsite.

# Connect with a WinSCP site
winscp.exe Adamsite

Once connected, WinSCP displays a status notification.

WinSCP command line: Connecting to Remote Machine Using a Site
Connecting to Remote Machine Using a Site

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
winscp.exe sftp://Adamsite/tmp

Click OK to start downloading all files from the /tmp directory of the remote host to your local directory via SFTP.

WinSCP command line: Downloading Files Using a Site
Downloading Files Using a Site

For uploading files from your local machine to a remote host, the process is analogous. Use the /upload switch 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.

WinSCP command line: Editing Remote Files Using a Site
Editing Remote Files Using a Site

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 (2).
  • /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 (5*10MB).

# Example of WinSCP session logging
winscp.exe sftp://[email protected]/tmp/ /log="C:\\winscp.log" /loglevel=2 /logsize=5*10M

Exploring Advanced Features with Interactive Commands

While winscp.exe provides a great introduction to remote connections, elevates your command line experience, offering deeper interaction and control.

Begin by opening in a command line environment. You’ll enter an interactive session reminiscent of SSH, indicated by the winscp> prompt.


Connect to a remote computer using the open command, followed by the desired site name.

open Adamsite

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.

WinSCP command line: Interactively Running Commands using
Interactively Running Commands using

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 session connections.

ssh-keygen -l -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key
WinSCP command line: Verifying SSH Key Fingerprint
Verifying SSH Key Fingerprint

To connect with the hostkey parameter, provide the generated fingerprint as shown in the example below.

Include the prefix ssh-rsa 2048 when using the fingerprint from ssh-keygen. open sftp://automate:[email protected]/  -hostkey="ssh-rsa 2048 x4DeZzv4jcWEk2zeeJgr5JeJ+z0xA+lGa3LC0q/B+88="

Maximizing Efficiency with Using the /command Parameter

While interactive sessions are great for certain tasks, non-interactive command execution is crucial for scripting and automation. 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

The /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 /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 The /script Parameter

For more complex automation needs, the /script parameter in 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="
 cd /tmp
 get a.txt C:\abc\
 open sftp://automate:[email protected]/ -hostkey="ssh-rsa 2048 x4DeZzv4jcWEk2zeeJgr5JeJ+z0xA+lGa3LC0q/B+88="
 cd /tmp
 put C:\abc\new_file.txt 

Execute this script using the /script parameter in WinSCP with the following command:

Use the /ini=nul switch to prevent WinSCP from saving any session configurations upon exit. /ini=nul /script=upload_file_script.txt
   # Output
   Session started.
   a.txt                     |           10 B |    0.0 KB/s | binary | 100%
   Session closed.
   # New session for upload
   Session started.
   C:\abc\new_file.txt       |            0 B |    0.0 KB/s | binary |   0%
   Session closed.

Utilizing 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 facilitates this conversion.

  • Apply the /keygen parameter, followed by the key’s current path.
  • Include the -o parameter to specify the output file path of the converted key.
  • Optionally, use the -c parameter to add a comment to the converted key.
.\ /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!

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