What is the difference between FTP and TFTP?

File transfer is therefore an essential function in the management of computer systems and networks. Several protocols have been developed to facilitate the transfer of files between machines, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Two commonly used protocols are FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol). Although these protocols share some similarities, there are fundamental differences between them. Especially in terms of security, functionality and use cases. In this article, we will see the difference between FTP and TFTP.

Understanding FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

FTP is a widely used file transfer protocol for transferring files between a client and a server on a network.

It works by establishing two separate connections. A command connection to manage commands and responses, and a data connection to transfer files.

FTP uses the client-server model and is based on TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), which guarantees reliable data transfer.

⇒ Read also: How to connect to a server with SSH? Step by step guide

Key features of FTP include:

Authentication. FTP allows authentication by username and password to secure access to files on the server. It is also possible to use an anonymous mode, where the user does not need to authenticate.

Access control. Administrators can assign specific access rights and permissions for each user, limiting access to files and directories.

File management. FTP offers advanced file management features, such as creating, deleting, renaming and editing files and directories.

Resume interrupted transfers. If the connection is interrupted, FTP takes care of resuming the transfer where it left off, which is especially useful when transferring large files.

FTP is widely used for transferring files over the Internet, sharing files between computers on a local network, and managing and uploading websites.

Understanding TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol)

TFTP is a simplified file transfer protocol designed for situations where simplicity and speed are more important than security and advanced features.

It also works on the client-server model, but uses the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) instead of TCP, which makes it less reliable, but faster than FTP.

⇒ Difference between TCP and UDP

The main features of TFTP therefore include:

No authentication. Unlike FTP, TFTP does not support user authentication. Anyone with access to the TFTP server can transfer files without providing a username and password.

Simplified transfers. TFTP only supports file read and write operations, without advanced file management features. There is also no possibility to resume interrupted transfers.

Lightness. TFTP is designed to be lightweight and resource-efficient, making it suitable for devices and systems with low processing power, such as routers, switches and embedded systems.

Limited use. TFTP is primarily used for network booting, configuration file retrieval and firmware updates on network devices.

Comparison between FTP and TFTP

FTP and TFTP are two file transfer protocols that differ in several aspects.

So here is a comparison of the main differences between the two:

Security. FTP offers authentication options, such as usernames and passwords, as well as the ability to use secure protocols such as FTPS and SFTP.

TFTP, on the other hand, does not support authentication, making it less secure.

Reliability. FTP uses the TCP protocol to ensure reliable file transfers, while TFTP uses the less reliable but faster UDP protocol. This means that FTP ensures correct data delivery, whereas TFTP can be subject to transmission errors.

Features. FTP offers advanced file management features, such as directory browsing, directory creation and deletion, and resuming interrupted transfers.

TFTP is much simpler and only supports file read and write operations.

Complexity. FTP is a more complex and heavier protocol than TFTP, which may require more resources to operate.

TFTP is lighter and more suitable for devices with low processing power.

Usage. FTP is commonly used for transferring files over the Internet, managing websites and sharing files between users. TFTP is primarily used for specific applications, such as network booting, configuration file retrieval, and firmware updates on network devices.

Summary: FTP vs TFTP

SecurityAuthentication and secure protocols (FTPS, SFTP)No authentication
ReliabilityUse TCP (more reliable)Uses UDP (less reliable)
FeaturesAdvanced file management, access rights management, folder navigationBasic functions (reading and writing)
ComplexityMore complex and heavySimpler and lighter
UseInternet file transfer, website management, file sharingNetwork booting, configuration file recovery, firmware update
Port number20 (data) and 21 (control)69
BenefitsSecure, reliable, feature-richSimple, light, fast
DisadvantagesSlower, more resource-intensive, complexityLess secure, less reliable, limited functionality
Connection modeActive and passive modesNo
CompressionCompression supportNo support for compression
Takeover of transferResume interrupted transfersNo resumption of interrupted transfers
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Adam Guipelbé

Ingénieur Systèmes et Réseaux

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