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AS2 vs. SFTP: Which is Better?

Secure business document exchange with AS2 over HTTP/HTTPS, using encryption, digital signatures, and MDNs. Reliable, cost-effective B2B communication.

Lahiru Ananda
Lahiru Ananda

In the realm of secure business file transfer, AS2 and SFTP are two leading methods, each with distinct advantages. Selecting the appropriate solution hinges on understanding their unique features and benefits.

AS2 protocol

In the early 2000s, AS2 (Applicability Statement 2) was designed for securely and safely exchanging business documents over the internet. Before AS2, companies relied on elaborate and costly networking structures, for example, value-added networks (VANs) and AS1, to trade electronic data interchange (EDI) documents.

AS2 employs the HTTP/HTTPS protocol, which facilitates real-time secure data transfer. Data encryption and digital signatures are some of the functions of AS2 to prevent malpractices against acquired information.

In addition, AS2 uses Message Disposition Notifications (MDNs) to verify that the messages have been received and processed by the recipients. The AS2 communication standard was described in RFC 4130, published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 2005.

AS2 quickly became popular in the retail, manufacturing, and healthcare industries because it was safer, more reliable, and less expensive than traditional methods. AS2 is still intensely used for B2B communications because of how secure and fast it is.

SFTP protocol

SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) was created in order to allow secure file transfers over the Internet. Prior to the invention of SFTP, people resorted to using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) as a means to achieve this; however, it was not secure in practice since it transferred data (including usernames and passwords) in plain text that could easily be read by others.

Unlike FTP, SFTP encrypts transferred data and authentication information, ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential and intact. Therefore, the SFTP protocol is mostly used by sectors that require tight security measures, like finance, health, and government, due to its confidentiality, which is always ensured by the encryption through which all transferred data goes.

Over time, many organizations have come to prefer using SFTP as a tool for secure file transmission because it is easy-to-use, has robust security features, and has the capability to integrate with existing SSH systems.

AS2 or SFTP? Which one is better?

The decision to choose between AS2 and SFTP depends on what your specific needs are and if you have any regulatory obligations, as well as the nature of the files that you want to transfer. Before going with AS2 rather than SFTP, here are a few things that you should take into consideration:

When to choose AS2

EDI and B2B Transactions:

AS2 is designed for electronic data interchange, specifically for EDI purposes and also for business-to-business (B2B) transactions. Generally, AS2 would be preferable where a company would like to share EDI files like purchase orders and invoices with its business partners because it is used in many industries universally and is compliant with diverse standards.

Reliability and Accountability:

AS2 has built-in support for message disposition notifications (MDNs), which acknowledge the receipt and processing of messages. Therefore, this is an important feature in ensuring reliable and accountable message delivery in business transactions.

Security and regulatory compliance:

Encryption and digital signatures are among the robust features that have made AS2 offer strong security. These help in ensuring regulatory compliance needs for healthcare (HIPAA) or finance sectors. If your niche falls under this category and it requires particular security measures, AS2 could be the answer.

Industry Requirements:

Specific sectors, including retail, automotive, and healthcare, have adopted AS2 as their standard mode of communication between businesses (B2Bs). Walmart, the well-known shopping store, is one of the important companies that use AS2 for their EDI transactions.

When to choose SFTP

Ease of Use and Setup:

Setting up and managing SFTP is generally easier compared to AS2. It is a good alternative for corporations that lack specialized software and dedicated IT resources, among other complex setups. Because SFTP does not need complicated configuration settings or certification management, compared to AS2.

Basic Security Requirements:

Although AS2 has better security capabilities, SFTP also has powerful encryption and safe transmission of data. If your security needs are adequately met by SFTP’s capabilities, then there would be no point in complicating matters more by introducing AS2 with its more advanced security features.

Batch Processing:

If your data transfers do not require immediate real-time processing or acknowledgments, SFTP’s batch processing is good enough, which is usually the scenario in non-essential business operations.

Cost Considerations:

Implementing and maintaining SFTP can be more cost-effective than AS2, especially for smaller businesses or those with simpler data exchange needs. SFTP typically involves fewer overhead costs relating to software, hardware, and ongoing maintenance.

Compatibility with Existing Systems:

If your current systems and workflows have SFTP as their main foundation, it might be a more effective solution to stick with this as opposed to migrating to AS2, unless a convincing reason exists for doing so.

AS2 vs SFTp View Image

In Conclusion;

Choose AS2 if you need to adhere to EDI standards strictly and need a reliable method of confirming message receipts (MDNs). Also, AS2 will be a better choice if you operate in heavily regulated industries or have a particular AS2 infrastructure set up.

Choose SFTP if you want a flexible, intuitive, and affordable solution to secure file transfers over an assortment of data types. It is particularly suited for common file transfer tasks as well as ad hoc trading sessions or times when SFTP’s encryption facilities and secure channels fulfill your safety requirements.

MFT Gateway

The MFT Gateway, Business to business (B2B) file transfer software as a service (SaaS) supports exchanging files over both AS2 and SFTP protocols. As a SaaS solution, the MFT Gateway will provide you with an email-like web interface for AS2 and SFTP, reducing the complexity of maintaining your own servers.

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Lahiru Ananda

Lahiru Ananda

Lahiru is a Software Architect at Aayu Technologies, bringing over 5 years of experience in the enterprise software industry, B2B communication, and cloud technologies. As the lead architect and designer of the MFT Gateway, he has been involved in the development and maintenance of various Aayu products. Outside of work, he enjoys the strategic challenges of chess and relaxing with movies and TV shows.


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