Due to its simple design, TFTP could be implemented using a very small amount of memory — an important consideration at that time. It was therefore useful for booting computers such as routers which did not have any data storage devices. It is still used to transfer small amounts of data between hosts on a network, such as IP phone firmware or operating system images when a remote X Window System terminal or any other thin client boots from a network host or server. The initial stages of some network based installation systems (such as Solaris Jumpstart, Red Hat Kickstart, Symantec Ghost and Windows NT‘s Remote Installation Services) use TFTP to load a basic kernel that performs the actual installation.
Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) is a simple protocol to transfer files. It has been implemented on top of the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) using port number 69. TFTP is designed to be small and easy to implement, therefore, lacks most of the features of a regular FTP. TFTP only reads and writes files (or mail) from/to a remote server. It cannot list directories, and currently has no provisions for user authentication.
In TFTP, any transfer begins with a request to read or write a file, which also serves to request a connection. If the server grants the request, the connection is opened and the file is sent in fixed length blocks of 512 bytes. Each data packet contains one block of data, and must be acknowledged by an acknowledgment packet before the next packet can be sent. A data packet of less than 512 bytes signals termination of a transfer. If a packet gets lost in the network, the intended recipient will timeout and may retransmit his last packet (which may be data or an acknowledgment), thus causing the sender of the lost packet to retransmit that lost packet. The sender has to keep just one packet on hand for retransmission, since the lock step acknowledgment guarantees that all older packets have been received. Notice that both machines involved in a transfer are considered senders and receivers. One sends data and receives acknowledgments, the other sends acknowledgments and receives data.
Three modes of transfer are currently supported by TFTP: netascii, that it is 8 bit ascii; octet (This replaces the “binary” mode of previous versions of this document.) raw 8 bit bytes; mail, netascii characters sent to a user rather than a file. Additional modes can be defined by pairs of cooperating hosts.