Trying to grasp the distinction between SSL and SSH?

At a high level, SSH and SSL are both technologies that help authenticate and encrypt data sent between two computers, such as your laptop and the server hosting your website. In essence, they greatly increase security.

SSH and SSL serve two very different objectives, despite some superficial similarities, thus it’s crucial to know the distinctions between them.

SSL is typically used to encrypt data while it is being transferred between two points, such as your web browser and the server hosting a website you are visiting. You use SSL if you wish to securely accept credit card information (or other sensitive data) on your website since it adds the “green padlock” in web browsers.

On the other hand, SSH is utilized to establish a secure connection and remotely log in to another computer (such as a web server) in order to send commands (through SSH tunneling). SSH is used, for instance, to establish a connection to the server hosting your website so that you can utilize WP-CLI to issue commands. When you use SFTP access at Kinsta, you’ll also use SSH to connect to your server.

In this essay, we’ll explain what SSH and SSL are as well as some applications for them. Then, we’ll delve deeper into some of the detailed technical distinctions between SSH and SSL.

What Is SSH?

SSH, or Secure Shell, stands for. SSH provides a safe means to remotely log in to a different computer and give commands, such as to the server hosting your website.

You may establish a secure connection between a client (like your computer) and a server (like the server hosting your website) by using SSH tunneling.

You must authenticate using either a username and password or a pair of cryptographic public and private keys in order to construct this secure SSH tunnel.

After successfully authenticating yourself, you’ll be able to use the command line to send commands to the remote server and securely access information (such as the files and database on your website).

What Do You Use SSH For?

“What can’t you use SSH for?” might be a better query. You have complete control after you establish an SSH connection to your server. As long as you are familiar with the command line, you can run whatever commands you desire.

After connecting via SSH, you can use WP-CLI to communicate with your WordPress site and plugins if you utilize that platform. You can add material, make changes, manage taxonomies, and many other things.

In addition to enabling command-line server management, SSH also supports SFTP, or SSH File Transfer Protocol (also known as Secure File Transfer Protocol), an essential tool. SFTP enables secure SSH tunneling so that you can connect to your server and manage files using FTP as usual.

You basically have a ton of flexibility after you login to your server via SSH because you can run your own commands as needed, which isn’t possible with SSL.

What Is SSL?

Secure Sockets Layer is referred to as SSL. Although the majority of people still use the term SSL, the more recent Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol actually has an earlier counterpart called SSL. However, you can consider SSL and TLS to be the same thing for all intents and purposes, so we’ll just refer to it as SSL.

The main purpose of the SSL protocol is to provide encryption and authentication for the protection of data transmission between two parties. This communication most frequently takes place between a user’s web browser and the website’s server.

There are a few key benefits:

  • Encryption – SSL encrypts data while it’s in transit, which means that malicious actors can’t intercept that information.
  • Authentication – SSL also helps authenticate that data is being sent to and received from the correct server, which is another way that it helps prevent man in the middle attacks.
  • Data integrity – finally, SSL also ensures data integrity by making sure there’s no loss or alteration of data during transit.

SSL works by using certificates, which is why you’ll see phrases like “SSL certificate.”

SSL does not, however, require any authentication from the client (for example, a visitor to a website), even though it does assist in server authentication. In contrast to SSH, which does call for client authentication, this does not. Every website needs an SSL certificate, but if it’s configured improperly, SSL connection issues could occur.

What Do You Use SSL For?

Most people are aware of SSL because setting up an SSL certificate on a website enables HTTPS and results in visitors’ browsers displaying the crucial green padlock.

Data transfer between your website and the browsers of your visitors will be secure once an SSL certificate has been installed and HTTPS has been enabled.

Installing an SSL certificate is a must if you operate any form of website, including e-commerce sites, if you want to reap the benefits listed above and gain the trust of both your customers and search engines like Google.

You can also upload data securely through FTP using SSL, which can cause some confusion. Although it also helps to make FTP more secure, this is different from SFTP.

SSH vs SSL: High-Level Difference

At this point, you know that there are a lot of similarities between SSH vs SSL:

  • Both help you create secure connections.
  • Both encrypt the data that passes between two devices.

The main distinction between SSH and SSL is that SSH is used to establish a secure tunnel to a different computer through which instructions, data transfers, etc. can be made.

On the other hand, SSH allows you to issue commands, whereas SSL is used to securely transport data between two parties.

For example, let’s say you’re on your laptop. Here’s an example of when you would encounter each protocol:

  • SSH – if you wanted to securely connect to your website’s server and use WP-CLI to manage your WordPress site, you would use SSH.
  • SSL – if you wanted 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.

Everyone who visits your website will communicate with your site’s server via SSL as long as you have installed an SSL certificate and enabled HTTPS; they are not required to authenticate themselves in order to access your site.

Only you and other technical users who are supposed to have direct access to your server and who can authenticate themselves using a username and password or a cryptographic key will communicate with SSH, though.


To sum up, because they both assist in establishing secure connections, SSH and SSL appear to be identical at first glance. But they have two very distinct functions.

The main purpose of SSL is to secure data transmissions between your website’s visitors and server. For instance, SSL is what encrypts the data and guards it from man-in-the-middle attacks when a visitor submits their credit card information or enters their password in a login form.

SSH, on the other hand, enables you to securely connect in to a remote computer so that you can run commands, work with files, etc. on that computer. If you wish to use WP-CLI, use SFTP to handle your site’s files, access your database remotely, etc., you’ll need SSH.

Only those who can authenticate themselves using a username and password or SSH keys are permitted to connect to your server using SSH.

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