Logging into office networks from home or other places has become the de facto mode of working in today’s COVID-19 world, and this makes SSH an essential tool in your work-from-home arsenal. The Secure Shell protocol, or SSH for short, facilitates remote logging. It also executes commands, supports tunneling, transfers files securely, allows TCP port forwarding, and more. Since it comes with strong encryption to protect communication between systems, more people today turn to SSH to continue their work seamlessly from any place. Before moving on to the best Windows SSH clients, let’s briefly see how it works.
How SSH clients work
SSH uses a client-server model to facilitate authentication between two systems and encrypts the data that passes between them. The server will listen in on port 22 (you can configure any other port too) for incoming requests from the client. Once the client sends a message, the server authenticates the client and provides the right shell environment if the verification is successful. The client, on the other hand, uses a TCP handshake to establish a secured symmetric connection and sends its credentials for verification.
As you can see, there are two steps to establish a secure connection. First, the client and the server should agree on common encryption standards for communication, and second, the server verifies the clients’ credentials. So, that’s a brief overview of the client-server model used by SSH. Let’s move on to some of the best SSH clients for Windows.
PuTTY is a popular open-source SSH client that can also be used for SFTP, Telnet, rlogin, and more. Its popularity stems from its simplicity as all that you have to do is download, login with the right credentials, and start accessing remote systems. It’s that simple!
This simple SSH client also helps IT admins to connect to switches, routers, computers, and other devices for troubleshooting.
- Saves session configurations, so you can use the same tool to connect to different networks.
- Ideal for both 32-bit and 64-bit clients.
- Works well on Windows, Mac, Unix, Linux, and more.
- Supports both SSH1 and SSH2 protocols, though SSH2 is recommended for security reasons.
- Facilitates public key, Active Directory, and Kerberos authentications.
- Comes with excellent terminal emulation.
- Provides support for many cryptographic algorithms.
Though PuTTY is a great tool, it is a basic one as it was first released in 1998 and hasn’t seen many developments since then. Some of the things you won’t find in PuTTY are:
- Provides no support for scripting, though it can work well with WinSCP.
- No support for integrated file transfers.
- Comes with a bunch of security vulnerabilities such as a possible stack flow in SCP and remote code execution vulnerability.
- Memory corruption happens in specific sequences.
Overall, PuTTY is a great tool for simple connections, but may not be the best choice for advanced functionalities.
Solar-PuTTY is one of the newer entrants in the world of SSH clients, and it aims to address many of the shortcomings of the original PuTTY. Also, it comes with many advanced features that help you to make the most of SSH connections.
- Comes with a tabbed interface for easy navigation.
- You can save multiple sessions and access the most-used sessions.
- Integrates well with Windows search, so you can quickly find what you want.
- Allows you to organize sessions and groups easily.
- Supports many protocols such as SSH, Telnet, SFTP, and SCP.
- Automates scripts to establish a connection.
- You can save private keys to sessions with this tool.
- Requires no installation, and just running the executable file should do.
- Offers auto-reconnect, saving of credentials, and more.
MobaXterm is an advanced version of PuTTY and is a popular tool to connect to Linux and Unix-based systems from Windows.
Though it is similar to many SSH clients, it is also unique in many ways.
- Comes with a fully configured Xserver based on X.org and, with this, allows the display of remote applications.
- Easily exports the display from remote Unix systems to local Windows systems.
- Supports tabs.
- You can extend its functionality with plugins.
- Handle all your network tools such as RDP, SSH, X11, and more through this app.
- Light and portable, so you can start from a USB stick and require no admin rights.
- Safe and secure.
- Supports many Unix and Linux commands on Windows.
- Comes with X11 forwarding capability for secure transport.
The Home edition is free while the Professional edition for office use requires a subscription.
SmarTTY is another good choice as an SSH client. This multi-tabbed SSH client comes with advanced features, and this makes it a handy tool for remote connections.
- Supports up to 10 sub-sessions in every connection.
- Copies files and directories with SCP.
- Allows the quick editing of files.
- Auto-completes files and recent commands.
- Has an easy file navigation panel to view all the files in the current directory.
- Comes with an advanced GUI for APT and YUM package managers.
- Displays the remote directory structure in Windows GUI.
- You can view data in ASCII and HEX formats.
- Auto groups data packets.
- Stores private keys, configurations, and credentials safely.
- Runs remote X11 apps out-of-the-box.
- Has various filtering and sorting options.
In all, SmarTTY is an advanced tool for easily accessing remote applications and computers.
SecureCRT is a well-known terminal emulation tool that enhances productivity, saves time, and comes with advanced session management features.
- Highlights keywords to match phrases and substrings during a search.
- Its command manager streamlines repetitive tasks to easily organize commands into folders.
- Opens a local shell session within the app.
- Supports 24-bit color.
- Has strong and multi-protocol support.
- Easy to set up and configure.
- Automatically monitors and logs events.
- Comes with a dark mode for macOS 10.14 and later versions.
- As an extra security measure, hides output when the session is locked.
- Display hex data independently for each session.
- Supports many advanced algorithms.
- You can configure the audio bell to play a particular sound.
- Easy-to-use import and export buttons.
There are a ton of other features, making it a comprehensive tool for your SSH connections and remote access.
Which is the best?
The SSH clients mentioned above are some of the most popular ones today. The exact choice of a client depends on your needs and preferences. If you think a simple client is enough to log in, PuTTY should be good enough. On the other hand, if secure file transfers and scripting are important, pick an advanced tool.
Have you used an SSH client? If so, which is your favorite? Share your experience with us in the comments section.
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