Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) Scheme and Applicability Statement for the Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP)
draft-lear-tftp-uri-06

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Document Type RFC Internet-Draft (app)
Author Eliot Lear 
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Network Working Group                                        Eliot Lear
INTERNET-DRAFT                                            Cisco Systems
Category: Informational

                     <draft-lear-tftp-uri-06.txt>
                             May 23, 2003

                   URI Scheme for the TFTP Protocol

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2003).  All Rights Reserved.

Abstract

   TFTP is a very simple TRIVIAL file transfer protocol that has been
   in use on the Internet for quite a long time.  While this document
   discourages it continued use, largely due to security concerns, we
   do define a URI scheme, as well as discuss the protocol's
   applicability.

1.  Introduction

   TFTP (trival file transfer protocol) has been around for quite some
   time.  Its common uses are to initially configure devices or to
   load new versions of operating system code.[1] As devices begin to
   adopt use of URIs and URLs, for completeness we specify a way to
   reference files that is still quite common.  Use of a URI is a
   convenient way to indicate underlying mechanism, server name or
   address, and file name.

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   WHILE WE DEFINE THE TFTP URI TYPE, WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND AGAINST
   THE CONTINUED USE OF TFTP, FOR REASONS LISTED IN SECTION 5 (amongst
   others).  The definition of a universal resource identifier (URI)
   merely allows tools that currently use protocols such as TFTP to
   have a standard name space and structure where one can understand
   the process used to resolve that name.  Indeed it is hoped that the
   definition of this URI will ease transition to modern file transfer
   mechanisms.

2. Syntax of a TFTP URI

   A TFTP URI has the following ABNF syntax[2]:

   tftpURI         = "tftp://" host "/" file [ mode ]
   mode            = ";"  "mode=" ( "netascii" / "octet" )
   file            = *( unreserved / escaped )
   host            = // as specified by RFC 2732[3]
   unreserved      = // as specified in RFC 2396[4]
   escaped         = // as specified in RFC 2396

   A TFTP URI specifies a file that is to be found or placed on a TFTP
   server.  The "mode" option is an option indicating how the the file
   is to be transferred.  If left unspecified, the mode is assumed to
   be "octet".  A third "mail" mode was deprecated at the time RFC
   1350 was adopted, and is not specified.

3.1 Encoding Rules

   Aside from syntax as described above, the TFTP protocol does not
   specify length limits to either file names or file sizes.  In the
   case of file names, they may contain any character so long as those
   characters are properly escaped as described above.
      
3. Semantics and Operations

   As previously stated the TFTP URI is a reference to a file.  The
   allowed operations on a TFTP URI are read and write.  When a TFTP
   URI is read the underlying mechanisms retrieve the named file via
   the TFTP protocol from the specified host with the optionally
   specified mode.  When a TFTP URI is written the underlying
   mechanisms transmit a file via TFTP to a specified server to either
   the specified file using the optionally specified mode.  No other
   operations are supported.

   Note that it is not possible to retrieve file size information
   prior to retrieval, nor is it possible to determine file existance
   or permissions prior to transfer.  Files transferred may or may not
   arrive intact, as there is no guarantee of reliability or even
   completeness.  See the TFTP standard for more details.  For more
   robust file transfer, consider using either FTP or HTTP.[5,6]

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4. Examples

      tftp://example.com/myconfigurationfile;mode=netascii

   This example references file "myconfigurationfile" on server
   "example.com" and requests that the transfer occur in netascii
   mode.

      tftp://example.com/mystartupfile

   This file references file "mystartupfile" on server "example.com".
   The transfer should occur in octet mode, since no other mode was
   specified.

5. Security Considerations & Concerns about TFTP's use

   Use of TFTP has been historically limited to those devices where a
   more full protocol stack is impractical due to either memory or CPU
   constraints.  While this still may be the case with a toaster, it
   is unlikely to be the case for even the simplest piece of network
   support hardware, such as simple routers or switches.  There are a
   myriad of reasons to use some protocol other than than TFTP, only a
   few of which are listed below.

   TFTP has no mechanisms for access control within the protocol, and
   there is no protection from a man in the middle attack.
   Implementations are left to their own devices in this area.
   Because TFTP has no way to determine file sizes in advance,
   implementations should be prepared to properly check the bounds of
   transfers so that neither memory nor disk limitations are exceeded.

   TFTP is not well suited to large files for the following reasons.
   TFTP has no inherent integrity check.  There is no way to determine
   what one side sent is what the other received.  There is no way to
   restart TFTP transfers from anywhere other than the beginning.
   TFTP is a lock step protocol.  Only one packet may be in flight at
   any one time.  There is no slow start or smart backoff mechanism in
   TFTP, but very simple timeouts.

   TFTP is not well suited to file transfers across administrative
   domains.  For one thing, TFTP utilizes UDP, and many NATs will not
   either support or allow TFTP transfers.  More likely firewalls will
   prohibit transfers.

   There are no caching semantics within TFTP.  There is no safe way
   to cache information using the TFTP protocol.

   In summary, use of TFTP is strongly discouraged except in the most
   limited of circumstances where memory and CPU are at the highest
   premium.

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6. IANA Considerations

   The IANA is asked to register the URL registration template found in
   Appendix A in accordance with RFC 2717.[7]

7. References

   [1]  Sollins, K., "The TFTP Protocol (Revision 2)", RFC 1350,
        July 1992.

   [2]  Crocker, D., Overell, P., "Augmented BNF for Syntax
        Specifications: ABNF", RFC 2234, November 1997.

   [3]  Hinden, B., Carpenter, B., Masinter, L., "Format for Literal
        IPv6 Addresses in URL's", RFC 2732, December, 1999.

   [4]  Berners-Lee, T., Fielding R., Masinter, L., "Uniform Resource
        Identifiers (URI): Generic Syntax", RFC 2396, August 1998.

   [5]  Fielding, R., et. al, "Hypertext Transfer Protocol --
        HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.

   [6]  Postel, J., Reynolds, J.K., "File Transfer Protocol", RFC
        959, October 1985.

   [7]  Petke, R. and I. King, "Registration Procedures for URL Scheme
        Names", BCP 35, RFC 2717, November 1999.

8. Author's Address:

   Eliot Lear
   Cisco Systems, Inc.
   170 W. Tasman Dr.
   San Jose, CA 95134-1706
   Email: lear@cisco.com
   Phone: +1 (408) 527 4020

Appendix A. Registration Template

   URL scheme name: tftp
   URL scheme syntax: Section 2
   Character encoding considerations: Section 2
   Intended usage: Section 1
   Applications and/or protocols which use this scheme: [1]
   Interoperability considerations: None
   Security considerations: Section 5
   Relevant publications: [1]
   Contact: The author, Section 8
   Author/Change Controller: IESG

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 Expiration Date

   This memo is filed as <draft-lear-tftp-uri-05.txt>, and expires
   November 23, 2003.

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