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TFTP vs. SFTP: The Key Differences

TFTP vs. SFTP: Which should you use for file transfers?

What do “T” and “S” have in common? If you add them to FTP you can create an entirely new protocol!

FTP + S becomes either SFTP or FTPS, and by adding a second “T,” you get TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol). While FTP isn’t recommended for transferring files securely, SFTP and FTPS are solid replacement choices – but what about TFTP? Learn about TFTP and how it compares to SFTP, one of today’s most popular file transfer protocols.

What is TFTP?

Like FTPS and SFTP, TFTP is based around FTP technology but is a completely different protocol. Like FTPS and SFTP, the TFTP protocol does allow for file transfers but uses a completely different approach to how files are transferred. As you might have gathered from the name, Trivial File Transfer Protocol is a stripped-down transfer protocol: it can only be used to send and receive files. TFTP is best used in cases where you know the exact file and its precise location and don’t require any security or encryption when sending or receiving that file.

With TFTP, user authentication and directory visibility are not possible, and TFTP allows anyone who knows the right pathing to upload and download files. Even FTP, which is not the most secure file transfer option, uses authentication.

Recapping SFTP

We’ve covered a lot about SFTP and how it compares to other file transfer protocols. SFTP stands for FTP over Secure Shell (SSH) and is a popular secure file transfer protocol. By working on top of the SSH protocol to establish a secure connection, SFTP provides organizations with a high level of file transfer protection.

SFTP supports AES, Triple DES, and other encryption algorithms to safeguard your data. Plus, SFTP gives you a few ways to authenticate connections: choose from user ID and password, SSH key, or a combination of both.

Related Reading: Which is Better: Free SFTP Software vs. Enterprise-Level SFTP Software?

What are the Similarities and Difference Between TFTP and SFTP?

  • Both TFTP and SFTP are file transfer protocols but with key differences. SFTP builds on the capabilities of plain FTP and enhances security. TFTP on the other hand contains none of the management and editing capabilities of FTP; TFTP does not allow you to list, delete, rename or change directories.
  • SFTP and TFTP both operate over a single port: 22 for SFTP and 69 for TFTP.
  • Both file transfer protocols are easy to implement. SFTP is firewall-friendly, and TFTP is one of the most basic file transfer protocols, which makes it a popular choice for simple, low-level file transfers.
  • In terms of security, SFTP is the easy winner: SFTP encrypts your data in transit (TFTP doesn’t encrypt your data at all). Plus, SFTP authenticates your connection with your choice of user ID and password or SSH keys with or instead of a password. TFTP has no security.
  • SFTP and TFTP are both reliable, but in very different ways. Since TFTP uses the lockstep method, it easily detects and corrects errors. SFTP supports transfer resume in the case of connectivity issues and has packet-level integrity checks.
  • TFTP is well-regarded for being a fast file transfer protocol, but that’s mostly because it’s used for transferring small, single files. It uses UDP (User Datagram Protocol), which trades reliability for speed. SFTP on the other hand isn’t the quickest file transfer protocol out there but offers more security.

When Should You Use SFTP vs. TFTP?

Despite being a basic protocol lacking in security and functionality, TFTP is widely used for simple one-off file transfers within a LAN (Local Area Network). It’s understandably not suitable for file transfers over the internet – an FTP alternative is a better fit for transferring files in bulk, securely, or across networks. A Linux OS is where you’d be most likely to encounter a TFTP server, but you might run into it on some other software on Windows or Mac that also can run a TFTP server. TFTP is most commonly used for:

  • Transferring small files within a local area network
  • Upgrading code and configurations
  • Backing up network configurations and router configuration files
  • Saving and pushing OS images
  • Booting PCs without a disk, or remote-booting without hard drives

SFTP is a robust protocol that provides file management capabilities that include listing directories, renaming files, deleting files, and more.

SFTP:

  • Ensures data integrity and data security for your file transfers
  • Is a secure way to transfer your data to the cloud
  • Allows you to use SSH keys to prevent imposters from connecting to the server
  • Provides functionality to work with sensitive files, including removing them and resuming paused file transfers

Learn more about SFTP: How SFTP Works

Use the Best Secure File Transfer Protocol for Your Organization

Working on moving away from FTP or home-grown file transfer solutions? Discover a better way to transfer your data – one-off or in bulk – with Managed File Transfer (MFT). Try a hands-on 30-day trial that includes SFTP and SFTP-supporting features, or learn from the experts in our upcoming webinar, “Replace FTP with an MFT Solution.”

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