TFTP vs FTP – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

TFTP vs FTP – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). Firstly, File transfer requires a connection between the client and the server. Thankfully, there are numerous network protocols that facilitate file transfer between computer systems seamlessly. Both TFTP and FTP are ideal network protocols for transferring files between computer systems. These protocols allow devices to communicate with each other and share files over a network protocol. 

After all, to help you choose the most appropriate network protocol, it’s best to take a deep dive into each of them. Hence, this article discusses the differences between TFTP and FTP, including their main features. 

Shall we start with TFTP vs FTP – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). Read on!

What is TFTP?

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Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) is a network protocol used to transfer files between remote machines. All in all, this file transfer protocol is used to transfer large files over the web. Ideally, it’s a simpler version of FTP that does not provide user authentication. Due to this, it is used to transfer configuration or boot files between machines in a local setup. Basically, it has various security concerns and lacks key security features for use over the internet.

You can use TFTP for computers and devices without storage devices or disk drives, as it’s easy to implement with a small amount of memory. This feature makes it useful for preboot execution environments (PXE).

How TFTP Works

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As a matter of fact, in TFTP, data transfer is initiated through port 69. It uses the concept of User Datagram Protocol (UDP) to transfer data from the server to the client. Besides, TFTP does not follow any authentication before file communication. Also, it does not apply security mechanisms while executing communication. Because it does not follow any authentication mechanisms to secure data, you cannot use it to send files over the internet.

As mentioned above, TFTP establishes its connection using port 69. After establishing that connection, the client receives a read request (RRQ) or write request (WRQ). Basically, the client requests a read request when it wants to read the file. Alternatively, it generates a written request when it wants to write a particular file that exists on the server. 

Data transfer communication happens in the form of small packets whereby each packet is 512 bytes. Basically, the file in the transfer is broken down into small packets, each consisting of 512 bytes. Once the transfer is over, the server waits for the client to indicate that the file has been received. The server then sends the next packet, and the process continues until all packets are transferred. Consequently, this form of file transfer is known as server side to client side transfer. In case the packet does not reach the client in time, the server resends the same packet until the client acknowledges it has received it.

Features of TFTP

Here are some features of the TFTP protocol:

Based on the Client-Server Principle

TFTP is based on the client server principle whereby the client initiates a request and sends it to the server at Port 69. As well as, the server responds by sending back data packets to the client. Therefore, it relies on client server communication to share data between networks.

Unsecured Protocol

TCIP does not provide authentication as it has no built in encryption. Therefore, it does not stop hackers from spoofing on servers. 

Default Port 69

In TFTP, Port 69 is the default location where client server communication happens. However, you can modify the connection port depending on your needs.

Local Area Networks Applicability

Hence, TFTP is ideal for file transfer in local area networks. Additionally, it has low memory consumption, which makes it suitable for local transfers. Besides, it’s unsecured, which makes it unusable over the internet.

Pros of TFTP

  • Does not require prior coding experience.
  • Network Device Config files can be transferred using the protocol. 
  • Can be used with Linux or Windows
  • Low memory usage.
  • Uses easy to implement UDP protocol.
  • Provides seamless data transfer in local connections.

Cons of TFTP

  • Lack of authentication and encryption makes it unsecure and prone to attacks.
  • No high level of security compared to FTP server.
  • No authentication or encryption. 
  • Cannot be used for file transfer over the internet

Up next with TFTP vs FTP – What’s the Difference? we introduce FTP server. 

What is FTP?

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File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a network communication protocol for transferring files between computers over TCP/IP networks.  TCP/IP networks include HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP. Users with access can transfer or receive files over an internet connection. This protocol provides a way to transfer files over the internet between host servers. 

How FTP Works?

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To understand how FTP works, it’s essential to look into the client server model. Use an FTP client to send files from a computer to a server via FTP. The client is basically an application on your computer that connects with another service via FTP or any other protocol. Therefore, the FTP client provides an environment where you upload or download files from a server to your device and manage stored files.

Equally, FTP clients also transfer files using other alternative protocols besides FTP. The most commonly used protocols are File Transfer Protocol Secure (FTPS) and SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) which uses a secure shell for encryption. Basically,  there are lots of FTP clients available, with some being paid and others free. 

Following, FTP uses TCP services and needs two TCP connections where one is a data connection while the other is a control connection. The control connection on the server side uses port 21. To establish a connection, the server issues a passive open on the port and waits for the client to issue an active open using an ephemeral port. This connection remains active throughout the process. The data connection uses port 20.

FTP Data Connections

There are two ways to establish a data connection:

  • The client sends the port number to the server using the PORT command.
  • Client issues a passive open using an ephemeral port.
  • Server issues an active open after receiving the port number from the client.

Both passive and active modes are key in the transfer process.

Passive mode

 In passive mode, the server issues the command to send the client information it needs. Basically, the client initiates all connections.

Active mode

In active mode, the client initiates a session via a command channel request. On the other hand, the server creates a connection back to the client and initiates the data transfer process.

Features of FTP

Here are some of the top features of FTP:

Multiple Transmission Modes

There are three transmission modes in FTP file transfer: Stream Mode, Compressed Mode, and Block Mode. Stream mode is the default whereby the file is transmitted to TCP as a continuous stream of bytes. In the block mode, data is delivered from FTP to TCP in blocks where each block is preceded by a 3 bytes header. In the compressed mode, data is usually compressed if the file is huge. This involves removing blank spaces in text files and compressing null characters in binary files.

Data Structures

FTP supports both structured and unstructured files. The structured file contains a list of records where each record is delimited by EDR (End of Record). The corresponding type of data structure is known as a record structure (file divided into records). On the other hand, an unstructured file contains strings of bytes delimited by the End of Life (EOF). The corresponding data structure is known as a file structure.

Data Representation

FTP handles three kinds of data protocols. These are EBCDIC, ASCII, and 8-Binary. The ASCII file is the FTP’s default format for file transfer. Each character is encoded in a 7-bit ASCII. Ideally, the sender transforms files into ASCII characters while the receiver transforms ASCII characters into its own representation.

Pros of FTP

  • Incredible data transfer speeds that surpass HTTP.
  • Requires users to log in with a username and password there for improving security.
  • Most FTP clients, such as FileZilla, can schedule transfers.
  • It resumes transfer automatically once the connection is lost.

Cons of FTP

So what are the comparative analysis of TFTP vs FTP – What’s the Difference? Let’s find out. 

Differences Between TFTP and FTP

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Both TFTP and FTP are widely used communication protocols. Before choosing between the two, it’s best to understand the key differences. Here are some ways in which TFTP differs from FTP:

Source Connection Ports

TFTP establishes a single connection to transfer files. It uses UDP Port 69 to connect the client and the server. On the other hand, FTP uses two connection ports. Port 21 establishes a data connection, while port 20 establishes a control connection.


TFTP does not have any form of authentication required. It does not have login sessions and hence presents a security risk. FTP supports login as its primary authentication method. You have to log in using a username and password before file transfer.

Use Cases

TFTP is used to share files over a local network. It is used for router booting or local computer networks and is ideal for sharing small amounts of data. FTP exchanges files over a TCP/IP connection. In essence, remote users can utilize the DP protocol to upload or download files. 

Transport Layer Protocol

TFTP utilizes UDP as the transport layer protocol. UDP is an open port that has less overhead and zero control. On the other hand, FTP uses TCP as its transport layer protocol. TCP facilitates file transfer and provides a secure connection oriented service. 

Memory Usage

You can implement TFTP with a tiny amount of memory. Its simple design and minimal functionalities hence low memory demands. On the other hand, FTP requires a huge amount of memory to transfer data files. 


TFTP utilizes five messages to perform tasks.  These are Write Request (WRQ), Read Request (RRQ), Data (DATA), Error (ERROR), and Acknowledgement (ACK). On the other hand, FTP has a high number of instructions that you need to master. These commands include LCD, dir, put, get, rmdir, mkdir, and cd, among others, that can run and list directories.

Thank you for reading TFTP vs FTP – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). We should conclude. 

TFTP vs FTP - What's the Difference? (Pros and Cons) Conclusion

In this article, we’ve discussed both TFTP and FTP, including their top features, pros and cons, and key differences. Therefore, you should be able to choose the most suitable protocol for file transfer. TFTP is suitable if you are sharing data on a local computer network. On the other hand, FTP is ideal for TCP/IP transfer. However, you should consider the security implications of each approach to keep your data secure.

For more networking tips such as FTP, please read our blog!

Avatar for Dennis Muvaa
Dennis Muvaa

Dennis is an expert content writer and SEO strategist in cloud technologies such as AWS, Azure, and GCP. He's also experienced in cybersecurity, big data, and AI.

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