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TFTP Vs. FTP: The Networking Perspective

In the past, transferring files to or from networking equipment wasn’t as common as it is now. I suspect this is largely due to many factors, including vendors updating their software to meet ever-challenging security risks and clients' interest in logs that may reside on the unit.

For example, when I was troubleshooting a problem with a Cisco router for a client, we needed to download the crash log for Cisco's Technical Assistance Center (TAC). I was a bit surprised when my client was not familiar – or comfortable -- with downloading a file from the router. In another situation, a client wanted me to figure out why Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) was slow or failing when uploading a new version of Cisco IOS to his router. To cut to the chase, I used File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and the upload finished in a fraction of the time. The client misunderstood and thought I had uncovered a bug, but I explained that TFTP is UDP based and not too forgiving where FTP) is TCP based and more likely to work where TFTP struggles.

I thought it would be helpful to duplicate the TFTP vs FTP performance issue. In this video, I used a WAN emulator from Apposite Technologies, Wireshark, and a Cisco router and provided an example of items that I document when performing an application baseline.

The two key point to take away from this:

  • It doesn’t take that much time to perform a high-level comparison between two applications.
  • When TFTP is taking too long, or not completing, you might want to try FTP.