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Definition: TFTP stands for Trivial File Transfer Protocol, a technology for transferring files between network devices. It is a simplified version of FTP (File Transfer Protocol).

Purpose of TFTP

TFTP was developed in the 1970s for computers lacking sufficient memory or disk space to provide full FTP support. Today, TFTP is also found on both consumer broadband routers and commercial network routers. Home network administrators sometimes use TFTP to upgrade their router firmware, while professional administrators may also use TFTP to distribute software across corporate networks.

How TFTP Works

Like FTP, TFTP uses client and server software to make connections between two devices. From a TFTP client, individual files can be copied (uploaded) to or downloaded from the server. TFTP uses UDP for transporting data.

TFTP Clients and Servers

Command line TFTP clients are included in current versions of Microsoft Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Some TFTP clients with graphical interfaces are also available for free download on the Internet.

Microsoft Windows does not ship with a TFTP server, but several free Windows TFTP servers are available online. Linux and Mac OS X systems typically use the tftpd TFTP server, although it may be disabled by default. Networking experts recommend configuring TFTP servers carefully to avoid potential security issues.

TFTP vs. FTP

TFTP differs from FTP in these key respects:
  • original versions of TFTP only allowed transferring files up to 32 megabytes in size (some newer TFTP servers remove this restriction)
  • unlike FTP, TFTP has no login feature (it does not prompt for user name and password)
  • TFTP uses UDP port 69 to establish network connections while FTP uses TCP ports 20 and 21
Because TFTP is implemented using UDP, it generally works only on local area networks (LANs).

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