Best NetFlow Collectors and Analyzers For Windows: Reviewed in 2018

When it comes to managing a network, it’s important to have the right equipment and software that will give you the visibility you need to ensure everything is running smoothly. Unlike road traffic where slowdowns and obstructions can easily be pinpointed, network traffic is not something that’s easy to see. This is why tools like NetFlow can come to your help. Today, we’re reviewing the best NetFlow collectors and analyzers for Windows

We’ll begin our journey by discussing the different methods network administrators can use to monitor their network and locate–and fix–issues before they become real problems. Then, we’ll explain what NetFlow is How it works and what’s needed to exploit it. And while we’re there, we’ll also discuss some NetFlow alternatives that might be of interest. We will then dive into the core of the matter and introduce the five best NetFlow collectors and analyzers available for Windows. Some products are available for free, others require a purchase or a subscription.

About Monitoring Networks

As a network administrator, one of your responsibilities is to make sure everything is running smoothly, that there are no slowdowns and that all network traffic gets to its destination within an acceptable time. Unfortunately, what happens on a network happens inside cables, routers, switches and other equipment where it is typically very hard to see what’s going on. This is where the concept of network monitoring comes from. using different tools, administrators can gain some visibility on what’s going on inside the network.

Command-line Utilities

There are several tools admins can use to monitor their network. The most basic tools are command-line diagnostic tools. You probably know them and are using them constantly. Ping, for instance, allows you to validate that a given IP address can be reached and provide some statistics on round-trip delays and packet loss. Tracert–or traceroute, depending on your OS–will trace the complete network path between two devices.  Nmap will list all the devices that are present on a specific subnet.

Packet Capture And Analysis Tools

Next are network monitoring tools that will let you capture traffic passing through a specific location and that will let you decode the packets and analyze them. They can be very useful when trying to solve application layer issues but they often won’t give you much information on the actual performance of your network. One such tool that has become very common is called Wireshark. Tcpdump is another similar tool that uses a command-line interface rather than a GUI.

Flow Analysis Software

For the most precise view of what’s going on, flow analysis what you need. It relies on networking devices to send traffic information so systems called collectors and/or analyzers which can, in turn, interpret flow data and present it in meaningful ways. The protocol that permits this is called NetFlow. It was created by Cisco Systems several years ago but it is now commonly used in one form or another on networking equipment from most major manufacturers.

What Is NetFlow?

NetFlow was developed by Cisco Systems and was introduced on their routers to provide the ability to collect IP network traffic as it enters or exits an interface. The collected data is then analyzed by network administrators to help determine the source and destination of traffic, the class of service, and the causes of congestion.

A typical NetFlow monitoring setup consists of three main components:

  1. The flow exporter aggregates packets into flows and exports flow records towards one or more flow collectors.
  2. The flow collector is responsible for reception, storage and pre-processing of flow data received from a flow exporter.
  3. Finally, the analysis application is used to analyze received flow data. Analysis can be used for traffic profiling, or for network troubleshooting.

How NetFlow Works

Routers, switches and any other device that supports NetFlow can be configured to output flow data in the form of flow records and send them to a NetFlow collector. A flow is a complete conversation in the IP sense. The device preparing flow records normally sends them to the collector when it determines that the flow is finished either through aging–there has not been any traffic within a specific timeout–or when it sees a TCP session termination.

NetFlow Architecture

The flow record contains a lot of information about the flow. It includes the input and output interfaces, the start and finish time stamps of the flow, the number of bytes and packets it contains, the layer 3 headers, the source and destination IP address and port number, the IP protocol, and the TOS value. Flow records don’t contain the actual data that made up the flow. The only contain information about the flow. This is important from a security standpoint.

Except in huge multi-site environment, the flow collectors where the records are sent are often also the flow analyzers. They use the information contained in flow records to present data about network traffic in a way that is useful to network administrators. Different NetFlow collectors and analyzers will have different ways of presenting data. This is where our list of the best NetFlow collectors and analyzers will come in handy.

Some NetFlow Alternatives

As we’ve already hinted, NetFlow exists by several different names. But there are also alternatives to NetFlow, the two best-known are sFlow and IPFIX. The latter is heavily based on the latest version of NetFlow except that it is an IETF standard. We’re free to think that Cisco might even eventually replace NetFlow with IPFIX.

As for sFlow, it is a different, competing system. Its goal and general principles of operation are similar but different. Some NetFlow analyzers will also work with sFlow but, generally speaking, users of one don’t use the other.

The Best NetFlow Collectors And Analyzers For Windows

We’ve searched the market for the best NetFlow Collectors and analyzers for Windows. Why Windows? Mainly for two reasons. First, it is the most-used operating system and probably the one most network administrators are already familiar with. Secondly, the best NetFlow collectors and analyzers are for Windows. It only made sense, then, that we focus on that operating system.

So, here are the five best products we could find, in order of preference with our favorite at the top of the list. We’ll try to give you as much information about each to allow you to choose the package that best matches your needs.

1- SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer

If you’re a network administrator and you’ve never heard of SolarWinds, it’s about time you discover the company. SolarWinds makes some of the best software for network and system administration. And their NetFlow Traffic Analyzer is simply the very best NetFlow collector and Analyzer you can find.

SolarWindsNetFlow Traffic Analyzer Summary

Here are some of the product’s best features.

  • The SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer can monitor Bandwidth use by application, protocol, and IP address group.
  • It can monitor Cisco NetFlow, Juniper J-Flow, sFlow, Huawei NetStream, and IPFIX flow data to identify which applications and protocols are the top bandwidth consumers.
  • It collects traffic data, correlating it into a useable format, and presenting it to the user in a web-based interface for monitoring network traffic.
  • It Identifies which applications and categories consume the most bandwidth for better network traffic visibility with Cisco NBAR2 support.

The product will set you back a few thousand dollars but it is well worth the investment. It integrates into the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor and, as such, also need that product to be purchased. But if you want to try it before you buy it, you can download a fully functional 30-days evaluation version.

The SolarWinds Real-Time AppFlow Analyzer (FREE DOWNLOAD)

But SolarWinds is not only famous for making the best network administration software, they also make some of the best free tools out there. And if you need a smaller-scale solution their free Real-Time AppFlow Analyzer might be just what you need. The tool can be downloaded from here.

Although not quite as complete as the full-fledged NetFlow Traffic Analyzer, the Free Real0Time NetFlow Analyzer gives you the same basic functionality.

SolarWinds Real-time Netflow Analyzer

It can capture and analyze Appflow, NetFlow, JFlow, and sFlow data in real time. And it will show you exactly the types of traffic on your network, where it’s is coming from, and where it’s going to. You can also use it to diagnose traffic spikes and troubleshoot bandwidth issues.

Here are the product’s primary features:

  • Identify which users, devices, and applications are consuming the most bandwidth
  • Isolate network traffic by conversation, app, domain, endpoint, and protocol
  • View network traffic by type and specified time periods

This free software has some limitations when compared to its bigger brother. Its primary focus is the current and recent state of your network. It can only collect data from one NetFlow interface and will only keep and analyze the last 60 minutes of data.

The tool, like most other SolarWinds tools, installs easily via a standard windows setup wizard. And once installed, a NetFlow Configurator is included. It will help you configure devices that support various NetFlow variants.

If your networking equipment supports NetFlow and you need a quick and dirty view on your bandwidth usage, the SolarWinds free Real-Time App Flow Analyzer

2- PRTG Network Monitor

As its name implies, PRTG from Paessler is an all-in-one solution whose primary purpose is monitoring bandwidth utilization. It’s also used to monitor availability and health of different network resources. As such, it’s another very useful tool for network administrators. PRTG can monitor multiple sites and it can monitor LAN, WAN, VPN and Cloud Services.

PRTG

PRTG is not just a NetFlow collector and analyzer. In fact, it uses several technologies to monitor systems, devices, traffic, and applications. It primarily uses:

  • SNMP with ready to use and custom options
  • WMI and Windows Performance Counters
  • SSH for Linux/Unix and MacOS systems
  • Flows (like NetFlow or sFlow) and Packet Sniffing
  • HTTP requests
  • REST APIs returning XML or JSON
  • Ping, SQL and many more

PRTG comes in two versions. There’s a free version that is limited to 100 sensors. You need to be aware that a sensor is not a device. It is, instead, the most basic element that can be monitored. For example, to monitor each port of a 48-port switch, you’ll need 48 sensors. For NetFlow, you’ll need one sensor per flow source.

If you need more than 100 sensors, you’ll need to purchase a license. They are available for 500, 1000, 2500, or 5000 quantity and there’s also an unlimited license. Prices vary from around $1 600 to just under $15 000. Note that the free version will allow unlimited sensors for the first 30 days so you can through test-drive the product.

Installing PRTG is easy. After you’ve run the installer, the auto-discovery process will discover devices and set up sensors. And if that isn’t enough, you can add sensors–such as NetFlow collectors–manually. There’s even a detailed video that will show you how it’s done.

The server runs on Windows only but the user interface is web-based and can be accessed from any browser. There’s also a mobile app that you can install on your smartphone. And to accompany the mobile app, PRTG has a unique feature un the form of QR labels that you can print and affix on your devices. Then, it’s a simple matter of scanning the code from the mobile app to quickly view the device’s sensor data.

3- Scrutinizer

Scrutinizer from Plixer is another great NetFlow Analyzer. In fact, it’s even more than that and many view it as a full incident response system. With its ability to monitor different flow types such as NetFlow, J-flow, NetStream, and IPFIX, you’re not limited to monitoring only Cisco devices.

Scrutinizer

With its hierarchical design, Scrutinizer offers streamlined and efficient data collection and allows you to start small and easily scale way up to many million flows per second. The network is often first blamed whenever something goes wrong, With Scrutinizer, you can quickly find the real cause of most any network issues. Scrutinizer works in both physical and virtual environments and comes with advanced reporting features.

Scrutinizers comes in four license tiers that go from the basic free version to the full-fledged SCR level which can scale up to over 10 million flows per second. The free version is limited to 10 thousand flows per second and it will only keep raw flow data for 5 hours but it should be more than enough to troubleshoot network issues. You can also try any license tier for 30 days after which it will revert back to the free version.

4- ManageEngine NetFlow Analyser

The ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer gives the network administrator a detailed view of network bandwidth utilization as well as traffic patterns. The product is controlled by a web-based interface and offers an impressive number of different views on your network.

ManageEngine Network Traffic Analyzer Dashboard

You can, for instance, view traffic by application, by conversation, by protocol, and several more options. You can also set alerts to warn you of potential issues. For example, you can set a traffic threshold on a specific interface and be alerted whenever traffic exceeds it.

But most of the strength of the product comes from its reports and dashboard. The tool comes with several very useful pre-built reports that are specifically tailored for specific purposes such as troubleshooting, capacity planning or billing. But you’re not stuck with built-in reports as the tool also allows administrators to create custom reports to their liking.

As for the tool’s dashboard we mentioned, it is just as impressive as its reports. It includes several pie charts with things such as top applications, top protocols or top conversations. It can also display a heat map with the status of the monitored interfaces. And as you might have guessed, dashboards can be customized to include only the information you find useful. The dashboard is also where alerts are displayed in the form of pop-ups. And for the on-the-go network administrator, there’s a smartphone app that will let you access the dashboard and reports.

The ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer supports most flow technologies including NetFlow (of course), IPFIX, J-flow, NetStream and a few others. As a bonus, the too has excellent integration with Cisco devices, with support for adjusting traffic shaping and/or QoS policies right from the tool.

Like many competing products, the ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer comes in two versions. The free version will be identical to the paid one for the first 30 days but it will then revert to monitoring only two interfaces of flows. While this is not much, it could be all that you need.

If you want the paid version, licenses are available in several sizes from 100 to 2500 interfaces or flows with prices varying between about $600 to over $50K plus annual maintenance fees.

5- nProbe and ntopng

nProbe and ntopng are somewhat more advanced–and more complicated–open-source tools. Ntopng is a web-based traffic analysis tool for monitoring networks based on flow data while nProbe is a NetFlow and IPFIX exporter and collector. Together, they make for a very flexible analysis package. If you’ve administered Linux networks before, you might be familiar with ntop.  ntopng is the next-generation GUI version of this ageless tool.

NtopNG

There’s a free community version of ntopng and you can also purchase enterprise versions. They can be expensive but they are free to educational and non-profit organizations. As for nProbe, you can try it for free but it is limited to a total of 25 000 exported flows. To go beyond that, you’ll need to purchase a license.

Like most modern network analysis tools, ntopng features a web-based user interface which can present data by traffic-such as top talkers, flows, hosts, devices, and interfaces. It has a mix of charts, tables, and graphs. most featuring drill-down options that let you explore in greater depth. The interface is quite flexible and allows for a lot of customization.

In conclusion

For the very best Netflow collector and analyzer, you can’t go wrong with one of the SolarWinds offerings. The company consistently releases some of the best paid and free tools for network management. Their paid software is reasonably priced–especially when considering the features and their free tools are among the best.

The other four products we’ve just introduced are also great options. They may not be as full-featured or they may require a bit more work to set them up but any of them will do its job and do it well. And since they all offer some form of free trial, there’s no reason not to try them,

Read Best NetFlow Collectors and Analyzers For Windows: Reviewed in 2018 by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best Free SCP Servers Available for Windows, Linux and macOS

Secure Copy, or SCP, as we usually refer to it is a protocol that facilitates file transfers between network-attached computers and/or devices. It’s actually an extension of the Secure Shell or SSH protocol. It transfers in an encrypted format using the same SSL protocol that SSH uses. SCP is mostly used by system administrators to quickly and easily copy files to and from servers and networking equipment of all kinds. The SCP server is the component you install on a server where users connect to download and upload files. SCP servers exist for many platforms including Windows, Linus and MacOS. And today, we’re revealing the best free SCP servers for Windows, Linux, and macOS.

How Does SSH Protocol Work

Today, we’ll begin our discussion with an overview of SCP, what it is, where it’s coming from and for what purpose it can be used. Then, we’ll go over the best SCP servers we’ve found for the three major platforms used by system admins, Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

SCP In A Nutshell

SCP refers both to a protocol and to the actual apps that use copy files using it. It based on the BSD RCP protocol, sued for file transfers between hosts on a network. SCP uses the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol for data transfer and uses the same mechanisms for authentication. This ensures the authenticity and confidentiality of the transferred data.

A client can upload files to a server, optionally including some of their attributes such as permissions and timestamps. A client can also download files or directories from a server. One important limitation of SCP is that it only handles file transfers. Unlike more advanced protocols–like FTP, for instance–SCP down not provide directory listing or navigation capabilities.

Typical uses for SCP

SCP is typically used every time a file needs to be transferred over a non-secure channel, such as the Internet. The client is essentially command-line based are requires the username to be specified along with the hostname. It is usually invoked using a syntax such as:

scp SourceFile user@host:directory/TargetFile

This command will copy the local SourceFile to the remote server. To copy files from the remote server to the local host, the command looks like this:

scp user@host:directory/SourceFile TargetFile

SCP is often used to copy files such as configuration files or firmware updates to networking equipment and many include an SCP client as part of their Operating System.

The Best SCP Servers For Windows

With Windows being the most-used Operating System, it’s no surprise that there are numerous SCP servers that run on the platform. We’ve searched the Internet to find the very best SCP server software. But since SCP is just an extension of SSH, all but one of our recommended SCP servers are actually SSH servers.

1. SolarWinds SFTP/SCP server

SolarWinds makes some of the best tools for network management. Their comprehensive offering includes tools for pretty much every net admin task one can think of. But one of the greatest things about SolarWinds–apart from the fact that they have free trials of all their tools–is that they also offer several free tools.

One such tool is the SolarWinds free SFTP/SCP server. You can download the tool from here. The server runs as a Windows service. Its operation should, therefore, be easy for any seasoned Windows sysadmin. But even if you’re new to this, the user interface is easy enough to figure that you should be very comfortable.

SolarWinds Free SCP-SFTP Server

SCP, like its cousin SSH, originates from the Unix world. But, unlike most Linux implementation, the SolarWinds server does not rely on system accounts. Instead, it uses virtual users which are user accounts that you create within the application for the purpose of copying files. Since the user accounts don’t actually exist on the host system–or on the network–it provides heightened security. In the unlikely event that an account was compromised, it couldn’t be used to log into the system directly.

The SolarWinds SFTP/SCP server can be used to securely transfer OS images and firmware updates as well as device configuration or backup files of up to 4GB. Among the most interesting features of the product, it can handle concurrent transfers from multiple devices and you can also authorize specific IP addresses or address ranges.

2. Bitvise SSH Server

Both SCP and SFTP are protocols that make use of the SSH protocol to secure file transfers. And for that reason, the bitwise SSH server supports the two file transfer protocols in addition to the Secure Shell.

Like the SolarWinds server, Bitwise’s use virtual accounts or accounts created within the application and out of the operating system or Active Directory Domain. But the Bitwise server also allows the use of Windows system accounts. This way, you get the best of both worlds. AD or Windows users can connect using their credentials while virtual accounts let you give ad-hoc access to external resources.

Bitvise Server Settings

The Bitvise server has a few interesting features, For instance, you can restrict connections to SCP only, making it a true SCP server. But the real reason why this is good is that of the better security it offers. In standard Unix SCP implementations, having SCP access often inherently implies having SSH access as well. This doesn’t matter much in the Unix world due to the OS built-in account level security. But things are different in the Windows world where giving SSH access could mean permitting unauthorized Power Shell execution. This is why the Bitvise server supports the ability to allow SCP access while forbidding shell access.

One word of caution about the Bitwise server: It’s only free for personal use. If you want to use it in a commercial or professional context, you’ll have to purchase a license.

3. FreeSSHd

The “d” in FreeSSHd stands for Daemon. If you’re coming from Unix background, this is certainly a familiar term. But if you’re background is Windows, a Deamon is, in the Unix world, the equivalent of a Windows service. It a piece of software that runs in the background to provide a specific service.

FreeSSHd Settings

As for the Free in FreeSSHd, we don’t know if t stands for free as in no-cost or free as in open-source. The lack of any source code download section on the official site lets s suspect it is the former. Talking about the site, it looks like it hasn’t been updated for a few years. Yet, FreeSSHd is still widely used. Oddly enough, the latest FreeSSHd version announcement on the site is version 1.2.2 but the download section proposes 1.3.1. We guess the developer doesn’t have the time to maintain an up-to-date website anymore.

One of the best features of FreeSSHd is that it will run on almost any version of Windows. It’s OS requirement is Windows NT 4 or newer. We sincerely doubt that there are still older versions of Windows in operation today.

Other amazing features of the product include its very small memory and resource footprint. Also worth mentioning are the support for virtual users and an easy-to-use GUI interface where you can monitor or start and stop the service.

4. OpenSSH For Windows

OpenSSH was originally part of the Open BSD operating system, when it was released, back in 1999. It is kind of the “ancestor” of most SSH servers. OpenSSH is really a suite of tools of some 10 tools rather than a single piece of software. However, OpenSSH is the core of the suite and the component that does most of the hard work. And with SCP being so closely tied to SSH, the OpenSSH server also handles SCP and SFTP.

SSHWindows Website

Although it originates in the Unix world, the design of the software allowed it to be easily ported to other operating systems, making OpenSSH one of the most-used SSH and SCP server.

As for the Microsoft OpenSSH server, it is one of the most recent ports of the software package and it is still under development.  A pre-release version is available here. But be aware that this is a pre-release version and, as such, the installation process is not as polished as could be. It will likely require some knowledge of Windows system administration and Power Shell skills to get it installed and working.

And don’t let the fact that this is a pre-release turn you off. Given its background, chances are that it will become THE standard SCP server of the Windows scene, just as it is for other operating systems.

As for the functionality, in the true tradition of Unix utilities, this is mostly a command-line based utility. Don’t expect to find a nice GUI, like you’d see in some other popular Windows net admin utilities.

The Best SCP Servers For Linux

As we’ve already established, SCP was born in the Unix world. And with Linux being the most common Unix-like OS you can find, it’s no wonder that a few great SCP packages are available for the platform. Then again, Linux is not quite as popular as Windows so there are possibly not as many Linux SCP server as there are for Windows.

1. OpenSSH

Our first contender is the same OpenSSH as we’ve just discussed in the Windows SCP server section. It is, in a way, the grandparent of all SSH servers. It’s been here for what could be considered ages in computer-evolution years.

openSSH Logo

And the best thing about this is that it comes standard with most Linux distributions. It might not be running by default or it may not be installed but it most definitely is available. In most instances, all you’ll have to do is start the OpenSSH daemon. DOing so will allow SSH connections and, consequently, allow SCP file copies as well.

It’s easy to check if openssh-server–that’s the name of the actual SSH server–is available on your system. All you have to do is run a simple command.

$ apt-cache search openssh-server

That command should return:

openssh-server - secure shell (SSH) server, for secure access from remote machines

This confirms the availability of the OpenSSH server component. To install it, you just need to run your package manager’s install command.

$ apt-get install openssh-server

These commands will work on any distribution that uses the apt package tool such as Debian and its derivatives, including Ubuntu. If your distribution uses a different package manager, you’ll need to use the package’s specific commands.

Once it’s running, the server will let existing system users use an SCP client to copy files to and from directories where they have write and read permission, respectively. By default, files will be located in the user’s home directory. Some tweaking could be necessary to have users copy files to other places without having to specify a complete path.

2. Dropbear SSH

Dropbear SSH is yet another open-source SSH and SCP server and client. Its main characteristic is a small footprint that makes it ideal for limited resources applications. Dropbear SSH is mainly targeting embedded systems such as routers or other equipment that could need SSH and SCP functionality. It runs on several Unix-style operating systems and can be tweaked to run on most POSIX-compliant platforms.

Dropbear SSH Website

Dropbear SSH is actively developed by Matt Johnson and the latest release is less than two months old as of this writing. Among the product’s most interesting features is the possibility to compile the software into a statically-linked executable file of just 110kB. The software is compatible with the OpenSSH ~/.ssh/authorized_keys public key authentication. The daemon can be run from inetd at startup or be used in a standalone fashion. And finally, features can be easily enabled or disabled at compilation, creating an even smaller executable with only the required features.

All this flexibility comes at a price, though. CUstomizing Dropbear to one’s specific needs will take advanced sysadmin skills. system administrators will need to be familiar with concepts such as modifying the makefile and recompiling the executable. But if you have the required competencies and require a small SSH and SCP server that can run on your embedded device, Dropbear SSH is certainly worth looking at.

3. A Word About Cygwin

Perhaps you’ve heard of Cygwin before. It is an open-source project which aims to provide a Windows DLL that implements a large number of POSIX API functions. Concretely, it means that any Linux open-source application could be recompiled to use Cygwin and, consequently, run on a Windows-based platform.

If you’re a Windows system administrator and have never heard of Cygwin, you might want to get familiar with it and perhaps install it on a Windows computer and see for yourself what it is all about. It is not perfect and it won’t turn your Windows server into a Unix machine but it will give you access to a broader array of options when it comes to system administration software and tools.

This is why we’re taking a minute or two to talk about Cygwin. With so many SSH and SCP servers available for Linux–we’ve only mentioned a couple of the best ones but there are countless others–it’s nice to know that Cygwin could allow them to run on a Windows platform. In fact, many Linux utility software is available as a Cygwin package, along with packages for other popular Linux distributions.

The macOS SSH Server

Although the general public might not be aware of that, macOS is another Unix-like operating system. However, contrary to most Unix-like systems–and Linux in particular–MacOS uses a different type of kernel which is a hybrid of a monolithic kernel–like Linux’s–and a microkernel architecture.

Because of these Unix roots, it’s no surprise that support for SSH–which also include support for SCP–is a native feature of macOS. As with most Linux distributions, the SSH functionality is not enabled by default in nacOS but enabling it is very easy.

Enable Remote Login on macOS X

All you have to do to enable SSH on a macOS computer is to go to System Preferences then launch the Sharing Applet and enable the Remote Login option. Doing that enables SSH for all of the computer’s users. And like most SSH software built into an operating system, file and directory permissions will dictate what users can copy to and from the server.

There’s nothing more to the macOS SCP server. You just enable SSH and it works. There’s no control panel or settings section. There are no virtual accounts either. Only system accounts are allowed to connect. It’s pretty basic but, it’s there, it’s free, and it gets the job done. Unless you absolutely need more functionality, it’s a great server to use.

In Conclusion

No matter what the reason is for using an SCP server, we’ve shown you that there are multiple choices, regardless of the operating system you might be running. And although there are many more options available, those we’ve told you about are the best free SCP servers for Windows, Linux, and macOS built-in SSH.

What is your favourite SCP server? Is it one of the few we just introduced? What do you like the most about it? Use the comments below to share your experience with us.

Read Best Free SCP Servers Available for Windows, Linux and macOS by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Best Free TFTP Servers Available For Windows, Linux and macOS

The Trivial File Transfer Protocol, or TFTP, as we usually call it, is one of the most used file transfer mechanism by network and system administrators. It is similar to its big brother FTP, or file transfer protocol albeit very different. It is a limited and lightweight protocol that takes little resources, making it ideal as the method of choice for transferring files such as firmware updates or system configurations. It is also the protocol that permits booting a diskless PC from the network using the BOOTP protocol. Today, we’re revealing the best free TFTP servers available for Windows, Linux and macOS.

File Transfer

In its most typical use, files are transferred between a server and the device where they are used. Today, we’re revealing some of the best free TFTP servers we could find on the Internet. They’ll all do the job but some have sometimes subtle differences that we’re going to try to outline. But before we introduce our top servers, let’s see what TFTP is exactly.

TFTP File Transfers Explained

The Trivial File Transfer Protocol, or TFTP, is a simplified file transfer protocol. Contrary to FTP, it does not use the connection-oriented TCP protocol but instead, it uses the connectionless UDP protocol on IP port 69. By virtue of being connectionless, packet loss is possible in transfer and both the client and the server must be able to manage it. The protocol can also be slower because it doesn’t use windowing, thereby reducing its efficiency on high latency links. For that reason, it is most commonly used on local networks.

Among the simplification of TFTP, as compared to FTP, TFTP has provides no way to list files on the server. It also has no user authentication possibility and no encryption capability. You must know exactly what filename you want to transfer. It does support using paths which are relative to the server’s home directory but again, one must know the path as there is no way to browse the directory tree. And finally, the standard TFTP implementation has no read and/or write rights capability.

Because of its limitations, most users prefer FTP to TFTP. Yet, TFTP is very much used by network and system administrators to update the firmware on multiple types of hardware such as switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, etc. And as we indicated in our introduction, TFTP is also used as part of the BOOTP process to download the operating system image to diskless computers and workstations.

The last version of the protocol is version 2 as defined in RFC 1350 which dates back to 1992. It’s been there for quite some time and it is the most-used version.

The Best TFTP Servers For Windows

Since Windows is the most widely used operating system, It’s no surprise that seven or our best servers are for that platform. After all, no matter what type of equipment you may be managing or what your need for TFTP file transfers is, chances are you’ll be doing it from a Windows computer.

1. SolarWinds TFTP server (FREE DOWNLOAD)

If you don’t know SolarWinds, it’s a company that makes a plethora of excellent network management tools. It offers a wide range of tools to address pretty much every network management task one can think of. Most of their tools are relatively inexpensive when compared to competing products and all come with a free trial period so you can test them in your environment. But even better than their free trials, SolarWinds also offers several very useful free tools.

The SolarWinds free TFTP server is one of these tools. You may download the tool from this page. The TFTP server runs as a Windows service. Its operation is transparent and its management should be easy for anyone with some knowledge of Windows system administration.

SolarWinds Free TFTP Server

A TFTP server is usually a simple tool and so is this one. There’s not much to be said about it. Among its main features worth noting, this is not a true 100% free tool forever and for anyone. It is not limited in duration and type of usage. Another important feature as stated by SolarWinds is the possibility to run concurrent transfers from multiple devices. And although the TFTP protocol has no built-in security, the SolarWinds TFTP server can be configured to only allow connections from specific IP addresses or ranges of addresses. And finally, the SolarWinds TFTP server can handle files up to 4GB in size. Chances are you’ll never need to transfer a bigger file via TFTP.

LINK: Download SolarWinds’ free TFTP server

2. Windows TFTP Utility

Despite its name, this tool not from Microsoft. the Windows TFTP Utility is actually a barebones TFTP server for Windows. It was developed by mgenti using C# and the .net framework from Microsoft. This makes for a very small executable, especially when you take into account that there barely any configurable options. However, this lack of options also means that you can’t even specify to which interface the server will bind and it will, therefore, accept incoming connections on all of them.

Windows TFTP Utility

The server’s small size stems from its usage of the .net framework. Of course, this means that if you do not already have the .net framework installed, your installation footprint might end up way bigger than just that of the server. Then again, there are not too many Windows computers these days that don’t have the .net framework installed as it is used in many software development projects.

And if you’re a developer yourself, the utility also includes a .net class that can be used by anyone to add TFTP server and client functionality to their software.

The server is available from its Sourceforge page and it is in the public domain, which means that anyone is free to use it.

3. Tftpd32 (& Tftpd64)

Tftpd32 from developer Philippe Jounin is a very popular TFTP server for Windows. In fact, it is much more than just a TFTP server. The IPV6-ready application also includes a DHCP server, a DNS server, an SNTP server for clock synchronization, a syslog server and a TFTP client. That’s a lot of functionality packaged in a single app.

Working tftpd32

In fact, it’s possibly too much functionality as there are few circumstances where one would choose to run all these services from the same computer. The only place where we’d see a use for all these servers is on a very small business network. On larger networks, most of these services, such as DNS and DHCP but also SNTP, are often run from whatever directory service server is used.

As indicated on the application’s website “The TFTP client and server are fully compatible with TFTP option support (tsize, blocksize and timeout), which allow the maximum performance when transferring the data.
Other useful features of the server are a directory facility, security tuning, interface filtering, progress bars and early acknowledgments.

The developer’s website proposes several different downloads. The application can be downloaded as a zip file or an executable installer. There’s also a version that runs as a service. And finally, you may opt for Tftpd64, the exact same application but compiled as a 64-bits app.

4. WhatsUp Free TFTP Server

WhatsUp, in the unlikely case you’ve never heard of it, is a monitoring tool that provides a centralized place to monitor devices and servers uptime and availability. It’s been around for ages and has gained an excellent reputation as a solid monitoring platform. Somewhat like SolarWinds, Ipswitch, the company behind WhatsUp, makes some free tools.

WhatUp TFTP Server

The WhatsUp Free TFTP server one of Ipswitch’s free tools. It’s pretty basic in terms of functionality but then again, this is what one would expect from TFTP anyways. The free server is targetting network engineers need to move files from one device to another with as little trouble as possible. The application, which has both a service component that runs in the background and an application to monitor and configure it, works very well. However, the lack of documentation can be a showstopper for some.

If you’re interested in giving the WhatsUp free TFTP server a try, the software can be downloaded from this page. You’ll need to fill a form with your name and email address and you can expect to be contacted by Ipswitch shortly thereafter. After all, there has to be a reason why a company such as Ipswitch would give a product like that for free.

5. haneWIN TFTP Server

haneWin software is a small company that makes networking software for Windows. And given that some of their products run under Windows 95, 98 and ME, it seems like they’ve been there forever. Among their different products, you’ll find a DHCP, DNS, NFS, and TFTP servers. The haneWIN TFTP server is a full-featured application that’s available in both 32- and 64-bit versions, It will runs on almost any version of Windows since Windows XP, all the way to Windows 10.

haneWIN TFTP Server

Contrary to most other TFTP servers, the haneWIN TFTP server implements some form of access control based on client IP address. Read and write permission as well as directory access can be set on the server on a per IP address basis.

The server comes in two components, a Windows service and a control panel applet that allows one to adjust the server’s settings and monitor file transfers. It can also be run from the command line, making it a great choice for scripted operations. Together with the server comes a TFTP client that is implemented as a DLL that you access via the command prompt.

You can download the file directly from the developer’s website.

6. WinAgents TFTP Server

WinAgents software group is another small company that publishes network management software. One of the company’s flagship products is its WinAgents TFTP server. It runs on most Windows server platforms since Windows XP. This includes Windows 2000 (server), XP, 2003 (server), Vista, Windows 7 and 2008 (server). Although the server is a 32-bits application, it will also run fine on 64-bit systems.

WinAgents TFTP Server

The server implements some form of crude access control based on source IP address. But the man differentiating feature of the WinAgents TFTP server is its use or virtual folders. They are folders that appear to exist to TFTP clients connecting to the server while don’t don’t really exist on the server. They are used to provide some sort of organization to TFTP file transfers.

The WinAgents TFTP server is a true free piece of software although it has one severe limitation. Released as a trialware, the software will run at full capacity for a 30-day testing period after which it will be limited to two simultaneous downloads. This limitation can be removed by purchasing a license for the software. The software can be downloaded and the license purchased from the WinAgents website.

7. Spiceworks TFTP Server For IT Pros

The Spiceworks TFTP server for IT Pros is way more than just a TFTP server. It is a small-scale configuration management system. It does use TFTP to pull configuration files from your devices and can compare configuration files side by side. This will ensure that your configurations are standardized throughout your network.

Spiceworks TFTP Server

The software can also help keep your firmware up to date by serving as a repository for device firmware. But before all, the software is as TFTP server that works very well. You are free to use it for any purpose you may see fit. It can be downloaded–in exchange for your personal information– from Spicework’s website.

Linux TFTP Servers

Linux is a very popular operating system and it’s not rare to see network administrators using it. Most Linux distributions come with at least one TFTP server, although it is rarely enabled–or even installed–by default. It’s still there, though as part of a package which is often called TFTPd, with the “d” standing for Daemon, the Unix name for an application that runs in the background. It is similar in functionality to a Windows service.

1. atftpd

A popular TFTP server in the Linux world is called is the Advanced TFTP server. It usually comes in a package named aftpd. Thit is is a great multithreaded server that supports multicast. As such, it is a great option for non-standard deployments.

Depending on your Linux distribution, you use apt-get or yum to install the daemon. Here’s how its done under apt-get.

$ sudo apt-get install atftpd

Unlike most Windows TFTP servers atftpd is configured by editing a configuration file which is located in /etc/default/atftpd. The config file is where you’ll specify things like the port(s) to listen to or whether to run the software and a daemon or an Inetd process. Here’s what you’d typically find in the config file.

USE_INETD=true
OPTIONS="--tftpd-timeout 300 --retry-timeout 5 --mcast-port 1758 --mcast-addr 239.239.239.0-255 --mcast-ttl 1 --maxthread 100 --verbose=5 /srv/tftp"

2. tftpd-hpa

tftpd-hpa is another popular TFTP server for Linux. With a protocol as simple as TFTP, every server has almost exactly the same feature set. The main reasons why you’d choose one over the other has to do with dependencies and documentation.

Typically, you’d use tftpd-hpa whenever you can’t get atftpd to work reliably. It is easy to install with only one apt-get command.

$ sudo apt-get install tftpd-hpa

Like the previous entry, tftpd-hpa is configure via a config file in /etc/default/tftpd-hpa. Here’s what you’ll typically find in that file:

TFTP_USERNAME="tftp"
TFTP_DIRECTORY="/var/lib/tftpboot"
TFTP_ADDRESS=":69"
TFTP_OPTIONS="--secure"

Any of these settings can be modified to your liking by editing the file. Once modified, the server must be restarted using this command:

sudo service tftpd-hpa restart

The macOS TFTP server (2700)

macOS is probably not the most-used platform by network administrators. Still, it has a built-in TFTP server. It is not loaded by default but enabling it is pretty easy. The easiest way to accomplish that is to simply type the following command in a Terminal window:

sudo launchctl load -F /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/tftp.plist

You’ll be prompted to provide your macOS password to proceed.

Once installed, you can use the netstat command to confirm it is running:

$ netstat -n | grep *.69
udp4 0 .69 .*
udp6 0 .69 .*

This tells you that the TFTP server is listening on port 69, waiting for connections and that it will accept both IP V4 and IPI V6 connections.

If you need to shut down the TFTP server, simply use the unload command:

sudo launchctl unload -F /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/tftp.plist

Wrapping Up

Despite its crude nature, the TFTP protocol is still widely used in the network management field. It is the primary way of installing and upgrading firmware and software on many–perhaps most–networking devices.

Whether you use Windows, Linus, or even macOS, there are TFTP servers available for free. We’ve just listed 10 of the best. Feel free to try any of them but let it be known that the first one, the SolarWinds TFTP server is or favourite. It is a high-quality server that will get the job done consistently.

Read Best Free TFTP Servers Available For Windows, Linux and macOS by Renaud Larue-Langlois on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter