Trying to understand the difference between SSH vs SSL?
At a very high level, SSH and SSL are technologies to help encrypt and authenticate data passing between two computers (for example, your laptop and your website server). Basically, they make things much safer.
However, while they are similar in some ways at a high level, they serve two very different purposes, so it’s important to understand the difference between SSH vs SSL.
In general, SSL is used to encrypt data in transit between two locations, such as your web browser and the server of a site you are visiting. SSL is what adds the “green lock” in web browsers and is also what you use if you want to securely accept credit card information (or other sensitive data) on your website.
On the other hand, SSH is used to remotely log in to another computer (e.g. a web server) and create a secure connection to issue commands (via the SSH tunnel). For example, if you want to connect to your site’s server to run commands using WP-CLI, you’ll use SSH. In Kinsta, you’ll also use SSH when you want to connect to your server via SFTP access.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to both SSH and SSL and what you can use them for. Then, we’ll delve into some of the specific, high-level technical differences between SSH vs SSL.
What is SSH?
SSH stands for Secure Shell. SSH offers a secure way to remotely log in to another computer and issue commands, for example, your website’s server.
Using the SSH tunnel, you will be able to create an encrypted connection between a client (e.g. your computer) and a server (e.g. your website server).
To create this secure SSH tunnel, you will need to authenticate using a username/password or a set of public/private cryptographic keys.
Once you’ve authenticated, you’ll be able to securely access information (for example, your site’s files and database) and issue commands to the remote server via the command line.
What do you use SSH for?
Perhaps a better question is “why can’t you use SSH?” Once you’ve connected to your server via SSH, you’re in full control. You can run any command you want, as long as you understand the command line.
For example, if you’re using WordPress, you can use WP-CLI to interact with your WordPress site and plugins once you’ve connected with SSH. You can create content, apply updates, manage taxonomies, and more. Note: WP-CLI is installed by default on all our WordPress hosting plans.
, we offer SSH access on all plans and you can also add your SSH keys through the MyKinsta dashboard. You can follow our getting started guide on how to use SSH to get started.
We also have some more specific guides. For example, how to unzip a file in Terminal using SSH.
Beyond using SSH to
be able to manage your server via the command line, SSH also supports another important tool: SFTP, short for SSH File Transfer Protocol (also called Secure File Transfer Protocol). SFTP allows you to connect to your server through a secure SSH tunnel and then manage files using FTP as you normally would.
At Kinsta, we only offer SFTP access because SFTP is much more secure than regular unencrypted FTP access.
Or, you can also use SSH to directly access your site’s database (although Kinsta also offers easy phpMyAdmin database management).
Basically, once you use SSH to connect to your server, you have a lot of flexibility because you can run your own commands as needed, which is not the case with SSL.
What is SSL?
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. While most people still refer to SSL, SSL is technically the older version of the more modern Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. However, for all practical purposes, you can think of SSL and TLS as the same thing and we will only refer to it as SSL.
SSL is a protocol designed primarily to protect data transmission between two parties with encryption and authentication. Most commonly, this transmission is between someone’s web browser and the server of the website they are visiting.
There are a few key benefits
- Encryption: SSL encrypts data while it’s in transit, meaning malicious actors can’t intercept that information
- Authentication: SSL also helps authenticate that data is sent and received from the correct server, which is another way it helps prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
- Data integrity – finally, SSL also ensures data integrity by ensuring that there is no loss or alteration of data during transit.
works by using certificates, so you’ll see phrases like “SSL certificate.”
However, while SSL helps authenticate the server, it does not require any client authentication (for example, a website visitor). This is different from SSH, which requires client authentication.
You can learn more about SSL in our full article on how SSL works.
An SSL certificate is a must-have for all websites, but SSL connection errors can occur if you configure it incorrectly. At Kinsta, our support is always here for you to help.
What is SSL used for?
Most people know SSL from the fact that installing an SSL certificate on a website allows you to enable HTTPS and get that all-important green padlock on visitors’ browsers.
Once you install an SSL certificate and enable HTTPS, the data passing between your website and your visitors’ browsers will be secure.
If you have any kind of website, such as an e-commerce, it is absolutely necessary to install an SSL certificate so that you can reap the above benefits and build trust with your visitors and search engines like Google.
To add some confusion, you can also use SSL to transfer files securely over FTP. This is called FTPS, or File Transfer Protocol over SSL. This is different from SFTP, but it also serves to make FTP more secure.
At Kinsta, we only offer SFTP (SSH). We do not offer FTPS (SSL).
SSH vs. SSL
– What do they do and why do you need them on your site? 🤷 ♂️ Click to see a breakdown of these two essential technologies ⬇️Click To Tweet
SSH vs SSL: High-Level Difference
At this point, you know that there are many similarities between SSH vs SSL:
- help you create secure connections
- Both encrypt data passing between two devices.
The key difference between SSH vs SSL is that SSH is used to
create a secure tunnel to another computer from which
you can issue commands, transfer data, etc.
At the other end, SSL is used to securely transfer data between two parties: it does not allow you to issue commands as you can with SSH.
For example, Let’s say you’re on your laptop. Here’s an example of when you’d find each protocol
: SSH: If you want to securely connect to your
- website’s server and use WP-CLI to manage your WordPress site, you’d use SSH.
- : If you want to interact with a frontend form on your website to submit data, your server would use SSL to encrypt the form data as it moves between your web browser and your server’s database.
As long as you’ve installed an SSL certificate and enabled HTTPS, everyone who visits your website will interact with your site’s server using SSL, they don’t need to authenticate to access your site.
However, the only person interacting with SSH will be you or other technical users who are supposed to have direct access to your server and can authenticate with a username/password or cryptographic key.
technical differences of SSH vs SSL
Of course, there are many technical differences between SSH vs SSL. If you’re a casual user, they may not mean much to you, but they’re important for technically-minded people to understand:
SSL is used to securely and
remotely connect to another machine to issue commands. It is used to
transmit data securely between two parties, typically a visitor to your website and your website’s server
on network tunnels. Based
digital certificates (i.e.
Runs on port 22
Runs on port 443
Requires client to authenticate
with a username/password or
Requires server-side authentication only (client is not required to authenticate)
It is a
cryptographic network protocol It is a
To recap, SSH and SSL seem similar at first glance because they both help you create secure connections. However, they serve two very different purposes.
SSL is primarily used to encrypt data moving between your website visitors and your server. For example, if a visitor enters their credit card or enters their password into a login form, SSL is what encrypts that data and protects it from man-in-the-middle attacks.
On the other hand, SSH
is used to securely log in to a remote machine so you can issue commands, manipulate files on that machine, etc. You’ll need SSH if you want to use WP-CLI, manage your site’s files via SFTP, access your database remotely, etc.
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between SSH and SSL? 🤔 (Hint: Both are essential security technologies!) Learn more in this comprehensive guide 💥Click To Tweet The only people who can use SSH to
connect to your server are people who can authenticate with a username/password or SSH keys
At Kinsta, we make it easy to install an SSL certificate for your WordPress site so you and your visitors can benefit from SSL.
We also offer SSH access on all plans and install WP-CLI by default, so you and your team can benefit from using SSH to manage your site. We also use SFTP to make sure you can securely manage your site and files via FTP.