When it comes to transferring small files across enterprise scale networks, TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol) servers are an administrator’s best kept secret. In the eyes of many people, TFTP servers have become outdated in the fast moving world of protocols. They aren’t particularly glamorous and they don’t have any grand functions. However if you want to push firmware upgrades to devices throughout your network, a TFTP server has an essential place in your network management toolkit.
What is TFTP?
Before we get to the best TFTP servers themselves, its important to get to grips with what TFTP is. TFTP is a protocol used for small file transfers and doesn’t require any authentication. It’s essentially a less complex version of FTP. TFTP servers are found in devices like routers and mobile phones. TFTP is used to transfer files, backup network configurations, and boot PCs without a disk.
You’re most likely to encounter TFTP servers on Linux but they can be found on Windows and Mac as well. One of the biggest drawbacks of TFTP is that it doesn’t have any access privileges in place, so anyone can access a TFTP server unless you use an external firewall or other third-party device. This makes it less secure than other protocols like FTP and SCP.
When you use a TFTP protocol you’re launching a request to read or write a file and requesting a connection from the server.
The Best TFTP Servers for Windows
Now we’ve taken you through what TFTP is and what its used for, it’s time to look at TFTP server tools themselves. Below we look at some of the best TFTP servers available and provide you with an overview to help you find the best solution for your organization.
Here is our list of the best free TFTP Servers for Windows:
- SolarWinds TFTP Server (FREE DOWNLOAD)
- Windows TFTP Utility
- WhatsUp Free TFTP Server
- haneWIN TFTP Server
- Spiceworks TFTP
- TFTP Desktop
- Cisco TFTP Server
If you’re looking for a free TFTP Server for Windows then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option than SolarWinds TFTP Server. This free server allows you to transfer files of up to 4GB. It also has the capacity to upload files from multiple devices. In other words, it has everything you would expect from a high-quality TFTP server.
The installation process is incredibly simple, and you’re guided through the process by an onscreen wizard. Once you’ve completed the initial setup, you’re ready to start using the program. This is also relatively simple. All you need to start running TFTP is to press Start, Programs then go to File and press Configure. To start your TFTP server, simply press Start. The swiftness of this process makes SolarWinds a great choice for users with less experience.
In addition, it also offers a number of security features. For example, you can add IP address filtering or restrictions such as an IP range to make sure that unauthorized entities don’t obtain access to your data. It also has its own address discovery feature that starts scanning for devices from the moment it is launched.
That being said, this TFTP server doesn’t have any encryption features. This is a consequence of the TFTP style, but SolarWinds does offer a number of unique security options to help you out anyway. For example, you can choose whether your server only accepts files or sends them out. Likewise, you can specify whether you’d like to enable only uploads or downloads.
Overall this is a great option for administrators looking for an enterprise-grade solution with security-conscious features thrown in. SolarWinds TFTP can be downloaded for free here from the SolarWinds website.
2. Windows TFTP Utility
If you want a back-to-basics approach to TFTP servers, Windows TFTP Utility is a textbook example of this approach. Windows TFTP Utility doesn’t have a fancy GUI; its all run via a command line system. Likewise there are next to no configuration options on Windows TFTP utility (this is due to the .NET framework it is based around). However, Windows TFTP Utility’s simplistic approach has the advantage of being very fast and efficient. Unfortunately the speed you gain through lacking configuration options can be mitigated by the .NET framework.
Overall this isn’t a tool for users who prefer to working with a GUI. This is a tool for old school command line users who want an entry-level TFTP server to work with. It is worth mentioning that on later versions of Windows, TFTP Utility can be accessed once you’ve enabled it from the control panel. You can also download the Windows version for free here.
TFTPD32 is one of the classic TFTP servers people have in mind when they think about these products. This is one of the more popular open source applications available on the market today. TFTPD32 includes services from TFTP to DHCP, DNS, and syslog. This is an interesting mix of protocols that can be quite useful within the context of an enterprise-grade network.
There are also a number of other features that make it incredibly convenient for users dealing with larger networks. For example you can configure TFTPD32 to send data packets without the need for an acknowledgement. This cuts a whole layer of unnecessary network handshaking and helps to make data transfers more efficient.
TFTPD32 is also fairly easy to use. Once you’ve completed setup simply press Settings in the program window and a settings page will be raised. You then uncheck all the checkboxes except TFTP Server. This will take you to a unique TFTP page where you click Browse to pick a folder as your base directory. This will be the location where all files using TFTP server are placed.
Press Ok, put TFTP Security to None, and activate Option Negotiation where it says Advanced TFTP Options. Check the Show Progress Bar, Translate Unix File Names and Allow “\” as Virtual Root. Then select your IP address and check the Bind TFTP to this Address box. Then click Ok before closing down TFTPD32. When you restart you will have activated a TFTP server.
Whilst this process could be simpler, it shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes to complete. The reason why this program is popular is because it does everything you could ask from a TFTP server.. TFTPD32’s ease of use and reliability makes it a good choice for those looking for a free platform that you can rely on. You can download TFTPD32 as a .exe file from the TFTPD website.
4. WhatsUp Free TFTP Server
In recent years IPSwitch have developed a name for themselves as the company behind WhatsUP Free TFTP Server. From the ground up, this TFTP server was designed to make the process of installing updates as simple as possible. So far they’ve been very successful in making this happen. For example, you can store files up to 4GB and run as a Windows service with 24/7 server availability.
In terms of security, you can restrict TFTP server availability according to subnet and restrict client permissions to the server. The only issue with WhatsUP TFTP Server is that it doesn’t have its own user documentation. This can make it difficult to use if you’re looking to do anything beyond the TFTP fundamentals.
Though the user interface is relatively simple, the inconvenience of having to trawl the web to try and piece together a solution for your problem makes this a less convenient choice than some of the others on this list. WhatsUP Free TFTP Sever can be downloaded for free from the Ipswitch website here.
5. haneWIN TFTP Server
When it comes to TFTP servers for Windows, haneWIN TFTP server is an excellent platform. It builds on the standard TFTP server style by adding its own unique access controls. This allows the user to implement access controls based on the type of operation being executed and the IP address of the connecting device.
It is also worth noting that haneWIN can be run via a command line interface. So if you want a security-conscious solution that requires minimal investment to use, then haneWIN TFTP server is more than worth a download. haneWIN TFTP can be downloaded for free on the haneWIN website.
If you’re looking for a solution that embodies scalability, then WinAgents should be at the top of your list. Whilst the graphical GUI isn’t anything special, it does offer a number of advanced features for you to use such as tsize, and blksize. In terms of security you can restrict access by IP address or range and assign permissions to a designated IP address. While these features are not extensive by any means, they are enough to add a little bit more structure to your TFTP usage.
One of WinAgents’ most unique features is virtual file folders. Essentially you can create a folder only visible to the user that doesn’t show up on the server’s disk space. This helps the user to organize their files in a way that is not available in most traditional TFTP servers without virtual servers. This makes WinAgents one of the most user friendly applications on this list.
WinAgents have two licensing options available. You can purchase the Standard License for $99 (£73) which offers you up to 50 connections. If you want more connections you’ll need to buy the Enterprise License for $299 (£220), which will provide you with unlimited connections. WinAgents is available to download from the company website here.
7. Spiceworks TFTP
SpiceWorks TFTP server is one of the more graphically pleasing GUI interfaces in this list. Spiceworks allows you to conduct firmware updates and restore network configuration settings on the fly. You can also compare your existing network configuration to earlier backups you’ve made. This is extremely useful if your server crashes as you can just revert to a backup configuration.
These features are the bulk of Spiceworks offering because pushing firmware to devices and backing up configurations are two of the main reasons people use TFTP servers. Spiceworks does both of these very well. A welcome addition is Spiceworks’ use of notifications. You receive alerts when changes are occuring on your network. This helps to make TFTP a solid choice if you’re aiming for transparency over the TFTP process. SpiceWorks is available for free as an executable file (.exe).
8. TFTP Desktop
In terms of introductory TFTP servers, TFTP Desktop is a must for anyone who simply wants to dip their toes into the world of TFTP. You can view file transfers in real time and enjoy all the fundamentals of a basic TFTP server. The simplicity of the GUI is TFTP Desktop’s biggest draw. So if you’re looking for a low maintenance TFTP server that doesn’t require much configuration, definitely consider using this tool.
The only issue is that the free version doesn’t offer simultaneous file transfers. This isn’t a massive drawback but it would have been a great addition. Overall TFTP Desktop is a good choice if you belong to an SME or you’re looking to try out a rudimentary TFTP server before you move onto a more comprehensive tool. TFTP Desktop can be downloaded for free here.
9. Cisco TFTP Server
Even though Cisco TFTP was discontinued, it has remained a staple for IT administrators around the world. The reason is that it offers one of the most neatly packed barebones TFTP server tools available. You can use it on Windows 98, 2000, Me and XP.
Even though Cisco has somewhat of a legacy in the TFTP space, it is outdated compared to all the other tools on this list. Cisco was originally introduced in 1995 and has since been discontinued due to security vulnerabilities. While Cisco TFTP Server does occupy a unique place in history, it’s well past its prime. As a result, you’re better off working with a more up-to-date tool if you want to enjoy a reliable TFTP server. If you want to reminisce with this classic tool then Cisco TFTP Server can be downloaded here.
TFTP Servers: Still Relevant
Despite TFTP’s basic nature, Network administrators will always have a place for quality TFTP servers like those above. TFTP Servers like SolarWinds TFTP Server and WinAgents are our top picks for enterprises looking for solutions that are simple to deploy and easy to scale. If you need to install firmware across a substantial network then we highly recommended downloading a TFTP server to save you a ton of time.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that TFTP has had its time. While it may not be the most glamorous, it does have an integral place in making your network maintenance much more efficient. There are plenty of resources out there to provide you with more information on TFTP, so don’t hesitate to experiment with a new tool. Below we’re going to provide you with a little more information on what TFTP is used for, its limitations and a guide to setting up a TFTP server.
What is TFTP Used For?
Generally speaking, TFTP is primarily used to transfer small files across LAN networks using UDP. It doesn’t require much in the way of network resources. It’s a relatively painless way to send files or firmware updates to devices throughout the network. In addition to conserving network resources, this also makes it much easier to update device firmware.
Attempting to manually upgrade the firmware of hundreds of different devices on an ongoing basis is extremely inefficient. A TFTP server allows you to push firmware updates straight to these devices from a centralized location. This means you don’t have to spend hours carrying out one task because you can use TFTP to automate the entire process.
Why Do I Need to Use TFTP?
There are many reasons to use TFTP, one of the main reason is to conduct firmware updates on an enterprise scale network. TFTP is preferable to FTP and HTTP because TFTP is simple to setup. You don’t need any special parameters or configurations, so your interaction with the TFTP server is kept relatively simple. Ultimately, there’s very little that can go wrong. Using TFTP takes up very little memory.
The reason why network administrators use TFTP over FTP is that it doesn’t require user credentials in order to operate. We’ve provided a brief list of reasons why you might need to use TFTP:
- To transfer files across a network
- To boot devices without using a hard drive
- To backup network configurations
- To save IOS images
- To backup configuration files from your computer
Although TFTP is useful for some tasks, it receives a lot of criticism from the IT community on account of its weaknesses. This is mainly because TFTP is unauthenticated and insecure. This an inherent part of the protocol and it is simply outperformed by FTP in most cases. TFTP was designed to transfer data with minimal effort and restrictions. The negative side to this is that anyone can access your configurations at will. There is nothing to stop a user uploading malicious configurations or deleting your current ones. As such this isn’t the right protocol for transferring confidential files.
Yet TFTP’s problems don’t end there. Even though TFTP is good for transporting lightweight files, it struggles with larger files. In many cases you’re better off transporting files through the use of FTP. Today even HTTP can be used to push firmware straight to VOIP phones. Despite TFTP’s limitations it does still have a place in most modern network environments.
How to set up a TFTP Server
In order to start using a TFTP server you first need to choose a software platform (we have listed some of the best options below). Once you’ve selected your software, the first thing you need to do after installation is create an inbound/outbound rule. Click on Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall and Advanced Settings. In the sections denoted Inbound and Outbound you want to make sure that “Simple TFTP server” is listed in both.
Once this is done you need to find a root folder to use; the default will be something like:
You can specify an alternative folder if you wish. This will be where you store all transferable files and the sole location your TFTP server operates through. As a general tip, you want to make sure you stick to using single files in this folder.
How to manage network devices with TFTP
You can schedule transfer commands with some TFTP tools and you can also set up scripts to recursively send out configuration files to all devices. However, you need to create different source directories on your TFTP server host for each device type, make and model.
There are a couple structural considerations that you have to take care of when you set up a TFTP server as a rudimentary configuration manager.
- Create a directory for each device type/make/model combination
- Create three subdirectories for configuration image backup, default configuration, and current status
When you install a new device, make sure to copy off its configuration into the default configuration directory that you created on the TFTP server host for that device type/make/model.
In order to manage the configuration of each device, you will need to implement the following steps:
- Create a policy for the device’s settings.
- Backup the device’s current status by transferring an image from the device to the TFTP server host.
- Send out the adjusted configuration image.
- Test the device’s new settings.
- Optionally rollback to previous configuration by sending stored backup by TFTP
- Periodically copy the current device status.
- Compare current configuration image file with the policy configuration file
- Reset the device with the policy configuration file if divergence detected.
Schedule the configuration checks to run periodically either through a shell script or by utilizing scheduling capabilities of your chosen TFTP server utility.