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By Vijay Singh Khatri

The internet is among the most revolutionary technologies for humankind and is constantly evolving. One of the most common and widely popular applications of the internet is file transfer. Millions of files are transferred each minute over the internet and if you are thinking that sending and receiving such a large number of files must be hard to manage, you are pretty much right. However, as you may have noticed that it takes only a few seconds to send and receive files over the internet and the transfer process seems smooth, well that’s due to certain protocols that facilitate file transfer over the internet.

Today we will be talking about two of the most commonly used file transfer protocols, i.e. FTP and TFTP. These protocols can be considered as the crucial pillars of file transfer in the modern age internet. We will be looking at what makes these two protocols a popular choice for file transfer and how these FTP and TFTP protocols are different.

What is FTP?

FTP is an acronym of File Transfer Protocol. Just by reading out the complete form of FTP, you can understand where its implementation lies in the computer network. FTP was created in the early stage of the internet and aimed to send and receive files in the old text-based format used back in the early 1980s. At that time, there were no graphics that could be sent via the internet. Apart from file transfer FTP also allows users to access remote computers that are present in the same network.

FTP was one of the original protocols which were used to access information from the internet. Its functionality dried down after the implementation of HTTP, but before HTTP, FTP was the most used file transfer protocol.

History of FTP

The first FTP standard, which was formulated in the year 1971, was RFC 114. It was published before TCP and IP ever came into existence. The predecessor of TCP was NCP, which stands for Network Control Protocol. The FTP was developed to be used in ARPAnet, which was a tiny group of development computers. Then came new RFC standards that redefined the working of FTP; the first new RFC standard was RFC 172, which was released in 1971, and in the same year, RFC 265 was developed.

The significant change in FTP came in July 1972, and it was brought by RFC 354. For the first time, the RFC contained complete information about how the FTP does the communication. After that, a number of RFCs were published, and a lot of them have mentioned the issues which were present in the use of FTP. After some more revisions, we finally got the FTP version that we are using today. The final revision of the FTP took place in August of 1973, and it was published as RFC 542. The only difference between the 1973 FTP and the modern-day FTP is that the old FTP was made to run on NCP. On the other hand, modern-day FTP is capable of running on HTTP and HTTPS.

The Need for FTP?

There are several reasons for the implementation of FTP. For different businesses, the need for FTP will not be the same. Given below are some scenarios where using FTP is a great option.

  • If you are managing your own network and want to establish a connection that allows the transfer of files, documents, pictures, etc., then you can make use of FTP.
  • If you are hosting a website or running a hosting service provider company, you need to set up an FTP server for transferring websites’ data and user information.
  • In case you are a developer and working with a company on a project, you may need an FTP server so that you can easily exchange files with other employees working on the same project.

Benefits of Using FTP

Following are some of the notable benefits of using FTP:

  • Faster Transfer of Large Files

FTP is designed to help individuals send large files over the network. A company that needs to send and receive large files day in, day out can use FTP to ensure the lowest time for transferring files.

  • Pause/Resume File Transfer

If due to some reason, you have to abandon the file transfer, you can still be able to resume from where you had left it. As a result, it does allow the user to transfer multiple files on multiple directories all at the same time. If you are someone who knows how hectic it is to manage large files, then having the ability to resume and store parts of a single file in different locations is a blessing in disguise. In addition to this, you can work on your system while the computer is transferring or receiving the files.

  • Schedule File Transfer

With the help of FTP, you can schedule the time when the file transfer starts. Your computer will connect with the server automatically and start transferring files.

  • Data Recovery

Most of the FTP hosting service providers now come up with the data recovery option. In an unexpected event, if you lose your important files and documents stored on an FTP server, you can easily get them back. With disaster recovery, files are backed up from time to time so that you can easily recover them in case of a disaster or a power outage.

Working of FTP

The computer which is used to create the connection for transferring files is a server. It is to store data and files. The second one is the client computer, which can send files to the server and request data from the server. All the transfer between the client and the server can take place via an FTP connection.

The initial contact for the connection is made with the client over port 21. This connection is used to send the information that the client had requested from the server.

Before the server starts transferring the data, the server checks the identity of the client. The authentication process is done by checking the username and the password of the client.

Once the authentication process is complete, both the server and the client will negotiate to open the common port. This common port will be used to transfer files, and it is also known as a data connection.

What is TFTP?

TFTP stands for Trivial File Transfer Protocol. The TFTP is a more complex and higher-level protocol that is used for sending files from data servers. These data servers are sending files to the hybrid systems, which are diskless workstations and X-terminals. The transfer of files takes place using UDP (User Data Protocol).

TFTP is based on the FTP protocol, but when we use it on HTTPS, it works entirely differently than FTP. One of the main differences is that TFTP uses the UDP connection protocol. However, the UDP protocol is not secure and thus it is not recommended to send the critical information via TFTP.

Trivial File Transfer Protocol is pretty simple in terms of design. But with the simplicity, you are also getting limited features as compared to its rival FTP. Also, TFTP doesn’t provide you with authentication and security while transferring files from one system to another. As a result, it is only used to transfer the boot files or the configuration files between the locally connected computers. Due to limited features, TFTP is hardly used for transferring files. Also, nobody wants to transfer their files using a protocol that offers no security.

Need of TFTP?

You may be thinking that if TFTP is not secure, then why do we need it? To explain TFTP’s use case, we need to talk about how FTP is used. As you know, FTP is used by clients and servers only. Both of these computational systems did have storage to save up files in their local storage. You need to know that FTP was designed three decades back. At that time, getting your hands on a computer was quite difficult. At the same time, finding a storage disk and getting a system online to a network was also not easy at all.

As a result, TFTP was introduced to transfer files to even those systems that don’t have disk space. These computers don’t have a permanent space to store information. Also, these computers start with a tiny piece of software, and during their work, they obtain the configuration information from a server. After that, they download the rest of the needed software from some other network.

TFTP is included in the device bootstrap process for downloading an OS or the system configuration files. Devices that get their IP assigned from the BOOTP (Bootstrap Protocol) or DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) can use TFTP to download their Bootstrap imageTFTP can also work alongside FTP.

Working of TFTP

TFTP is one of the lightest file transfer protocols, and it leaves a bare minimum footprint. Also, it can fit inside boot ROMs as it uses ASCII and binary modes. When comparing the speed of file transfer, it is much faster than FTP as it uses UDP as its transfer layer protocol. The UDP is relatively simpler than the TCP, which FTP uses.

TFTP sends the files by breaking them into different blocks and then splitting them into 512 bytes each. However, data delivery is not guaranteed when you transfer files using UDP. Thus, TFTP first needs to notify the target device and sends the acknowledgement that each block of the file has been successfully transferred. The subsequent block of a file is only sent after the server received the information about the first one being transferred successfully.

On the other hand, if the receiving end doesn’t send the acknowledgement of the block in the given time limit, the TFTP protocol will again send the same block until the target system sends its receiving acknowledgement.

In case there comes a file that is equally divisible by 512 bytes, then TFTP will send one more block in the end with zero bytes of size to notify the device to close the connection. Due to its waiting for acknowledgement from the receiving device, it is a stop-and-wait protocol.

Benefits of Using TFTP

The key benefits of TFTP are discussed as follows:

  • Easy to Implement

As we have already said, TFTP is mainly used due to its simplicity. The protocol is used to enable reading and writing files. It fulfills its role without establishing a connection between the server and the client device.

  • No Need of Disk Space

You don’t need to have ample disk space to use this protocol. Unlike FTP, even a ROM’s memory can be used to transfer the files to your system.

Difference Between FTP and TFTP

Here are some technical differences between FTP and TFTP that you need to know:

FTP (File Transfer Protocol)TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol)
FTP uses port number 20 or 21 to transfer the files from server to client.TFTP used UDP to transfer files from one system to the other, and it performs the transfer of files through port number 69.
FTP uses TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) as its transport layer to send and receive the information, files, etc.The UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is used to transfer files.
FTP has more than 60 robust commands used to keep the file transfer secure over the internet.TFTP is easy to implement as the control commands are just 6 in total. Also, it uses a stop-and-wait file transfer system.
To transfer files using FTP, you need to have an internet connection. Without the internet connection, the FTP won’t work.The TFTP doesn’t require a connection between the server and the client’s computer because it transfers files on the UDP layer, which is a connectionless protocol.
FTP doesn’t use the TCP connection to send files to the connected client. It creates one separate connection with the client and sends files from that connection. FTP is used to transfer large files over the network. As a result, its implementation requires more memory and complex programming efforts.As it’s a simple transfer protocol and doesn’t transfer large files, it can be easily programmed. It requires little to no system memory to work.
FTP is secure and you can send important information or documents without any worries. It also works well with HTTP and HTTPS internet protocols.You cannot transfer large files from TFTP, and there is no security for your file transfer. As a result, it is not recommended to transfer sensitive information.


FTP vs TFTP: Which One is Better?

By far, FTP is much better than TFTP as per modern standards. Even the smallest of the computers, which can fit inside the palms of your hand, comes with storage space. Even memory cards that are so tiny now can hold up to 512 GB of data inside them. Thus, FTP is a clear winner for a modern age internet user.

But that doesn’t make TFTP a loser in any way. It still is relevant, and some legacy systems are using it to get the IP address straight from their BootStrap. Yes, it might not compete with FTP, but TFTP has its own set of applications.

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