Trivial File Transfer Protocol

Everything you need to know about this relative to FTP

Photo illustrating files being transferred from one location to another

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Trivial File Transfer Protocol is a technology that transfers files between network devices and is a simplified version of the more robust File Transfer Protocol. TFTP was developed in the 1970s for computers lacking sufficient memory or disk space to provide full FTP support. Today, TFTP is found on consumer ​broadband routers and commercial network routers.

Home network administrators use TFTP to upgrade the router firmware, while professional administrators 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. The server hosts the files and the client requests or sends files.

TFTP relies on UDP to transport data.

TFTP can also be used to remotely start a computer and back up network or router configuration files.

TFTP Client and Server Software

Command-line TFTP clients are included in current versions of Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS. TFTP clients with graphical interfaces are also available as freeware, for example, TFTPD32 which includes a TFTP server. Windows TFTP Utility is another example of a GUI client and server for TFTP, and there are other free FTP clients.

TFTP help screen on Ubuntu.

Microsoft Windows does not ship with a TFTP server but several free Windows TFTP servers are available for download. Linux and macOS systems use the tftpd TFTP server, although it might be disabled by default.

Networking experts recommend configuring TFTP servers carefully to avoid potential security problems.

How to Use the TFTP Client in Windows

The TFTP client in Windows is not enabled by default. Turn it on through the Programs and Features Control Panel applet.

  1. Open Control Panel. Go to Windows Search and search for Control Panel.

    Windows 10 with the Control Panel app highlighted
  2. In Control Panel, select Programs.

    Control Panel in Windows 10 with the Programs menu highlighted
  3. Select Turn Windows features on or off.

    Or, execute the optionalfeatures command in Command Prompt or the Run dialog box.

    Programs section of Control Panel in Windows 10 with the
  4. In the Windows Features dialog box, select TFTP Client.

    You may need to reboot for the changes to take effect.

    Windows Features section in Windows 10 with the TFTP Client option highlighted
  5. Access TFTP through Command Prompt with the tftp command. Use the help command or see the tftp command-line reference page on the Microsoft website.

TFTP vs. FTP

Trivial File Transfer Protocol differs from FTP in these key respects:

  • Original versions of TFTP transferred files up to 32 MB in size. Some newer TFTP servers remove this restriction or might limit file size to 4 GB.
  • Unlike FTP, TFTP has no login feature, so it doesn't prompt for a username and password. Avoid using TFTP to share sensitive files — you can't protect these files or audit access to the files.
  • Listing, renaming, and deleting files over TFTP is usually not allowed.
  • 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.