FTP, SFTP, TFTP – What are They

File Transfer Protocol FTP, SFTP and their uses

In this article, I’m going to talk about FTP, SFTP, and TFTP. These are protocols that are used to transfer files over a network. First of all let’s talk about FTP first.


FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It is the standard protocol that is used to transfer files between computers and servers over a network such as the internet. In other words, FTP is the language that computers use to transfer files over a TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) network.


So for example, if someone anywhere in the world wanting to make their files available for other people to download, all they would have to do is simply upload their files to the FTP server, and then other people from anywhere in the world can simply connect to that FTP server and download the files using the FTP protocol.


Now in this example, this person is using a dedicated FTP server to share their files. But they don’t necessarily have to set up a dedicated server for an FTP because if they really wanted to, they can also configure their own computer to act as an FTP server. For example, in Microsoft Windows, this can be done using the Internet Information Services Manager.


Now there are a couple of ways to transfer files using FTP. You can use your standard internet browser, or you can use an FTP client. To use a standard internet browser you would open up a web browser, and then you would type in the address of the FTP server that you want to connect to just as if you were going to a regular website.


Usually the web address would be something like ftp.example.com (replacing example.com with the URL of the website you want to connect to). Now normally, if you were going to a regular website, the prefix would be HTTP or HTTPS but since we are going to an FTP site, the prefix is FTP.  Once you are connected, you can browse different folders that’s on the FTP server, depending on what the owner has made available. And then you can view and download what you want.


You can just click the files and then download them to your computer. Sometimes FTP servers will require an account with a username and password, and sometimes you can just log in anonymously. It just depends on what type of authentication that the owner of the FTP server has set up.


Another way that you can connect to an FTP server is by using an FTP client. There are a number of FTP clients that you can use. The most popular free FTP client is called FileZilla, which you can download for free. Just search on your favorite search engine for the term FileZilla it should lead you to their official website (https://filezilla-project.org/) where you can download it.


Using an FTP client provides a graphical user interface and a better overall experience than using a web browser. You will be required to provide the address of the FTP server along with the username and password, and the port number which would be Port 21. After that you would just hit the connect button and you should be connected to the FTP server.


Once you are successfully connected, on the left pane, you have the files and folders on your local computer while  on the right pane, you have a view of the files and folders that’s on the remote FTP server. You can move files/folders between the two panes by just clicking or drag and drop files from the FTP server or the local drive.


If you have the proper permissions, you can upload files from your computer to the FTP server by dragging them from the left pane to the right pane and then the files will be uploaded to the FTP server. So transferring files between computers is a common use of using FTP, especially when you’re transferring files in bulk.


Another common use of using FTP is to give the ability of website designers to upload files to their web servers.

Now the main drawback of using FTP is that it’s not a server secure protocol. What this means is that the data that’s being transferred is not encrypted. All the data is sent in clear text, which can cause security concerns. So really FTP should only be used on a limited basis, or on only trustworthy networks, or if a data that’s being transferred is not sensitive. However, if you’re going to transfer a data that needs to be protected, a more secure Transfer Protocol should be used. And that’s where SFTP comes in.


SFTP stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol. Now secure FTP is just like FTP, except that it adds a layer of security. The data using secure FTP is actually encrypted using Secure Shell during data transfer so no data is sent in clear text – it’s all encrypted. Additionally secure FTP authenticates both the user and the server, and it uses Port 22.


It’s also important to note that both FTP and secure FTP are connection oriented protocols that use TCP for file transfer- so they guarantee file delivery.


Finally, there’s TFTP. TFTP stands for Trivial File Transfer Protocol. It is a very simple File Transfer Protocol. It is not used to transfer files over the internet, like FTP, and secure FTP does. It’s mainly used for transferring files within a local area network. For example, it’s often used to transfer configuration files and firmware images to network devices such as firewalls and routers.


So TFTP is something that most people will never use. And unlike FTP, and secure FTP that uses the TCP protocol for file transfer, TFTP is a connectionless protocol that uses UDP (User Datagram Protocol) instead, and because it uses UDP instead of TCP, it’s an unreliable Transfer Protocol.


Finally, TFTP does not provide any security during the transfer and not that it needs to because as I said before, it’s only used on a local area network and not over the internet.


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