Look, I have no idea if this will work for everyone, but in case someone else is stumbling around trying to find a simple method to fix this problem — which exists solely because HP is greedy — here is what I found to be quick, simple and easy. The instructions will be for the HP LaserJet Pro MFP M281fdw, but I will try to include some information that may help owners of other HP printer models.

The problem is that HP is using firmware updates to cripple people’s ability to print if those people have the audacity to buy much more affordable third-party printer toner cartridges. At the time of this writing, HP charges nearly $500 to replace all of the colors — cyan, magenta, yellow, black. While an online provider we use charges $160 for the four.

To be honest we have really liked this printer, and the toner we get online. Other than the occasional firmware changes which brick the devices. This second time, I decided to do something about it.

I have no experience with printers and mostly loath their existence. So by “do something about it” I mean search the internet and see how others solved this, and copy that.

However, as is often the case, there are lots of people with the same problem who have turned to multiple locations to query for solutions, and the posted solutions are often not one-size-fits all, and often are either under-explained or vaguely explained. Or the solution involves using the command line, and knowing what parts of the command you may need to change to fit your model. This is the frustrating bit.

So with Sarah’s help, we tried all sorts of suggestions found in the HP forums, Reddit, YouTube, and even called the makers of the contraband much-less-expensive toner cartridges. The latter were very nice, and somewhat helpful.

The instructions below are focused on downgrading the firmware, but can also be used to upgrade the firmware if you have no other method to do so, but I suggest using the printer itself to do upgrades.

The Process

In this process we will be downgrading the firmware from the offending version (20201021) to the previous working version (20200612).

1. Before changing the firmware, make the following changes to your printer using its touch screen control panel. In the control panel, navigate to: Setup > Service > LaserJet Update > Manage Updates

Then make these changes to each option:

  • Allow Downgrade: Yes
  • Check Automatically: Off
  • Prompt Before Install: Always Prompt
  • Allow Updates: Yes – N.B. After you have complete the firmware change return to this setting and change to No to prevent updates.

If you have a printer other than the M281fdw then consult the manual to find the corresponding settings.

2. There are non-HP links out there to download firmware; however, I don’t recommend that. So check the HP FTP site first and if it doesn’t have the files you need, proceed to third-party downloads at your own risk.

I had challenges navigating the FTP structure via a browser, so instead I recommend using your favorite FTP client (mine is Transmit) and visit: ftp.hp.com. No username or password is required. Navigate to the pfirmware directory (/pub/networking/software/pfirmware/) and look for your model’s .rfu file. Here is the one for the M281fdw: HP_LaserJet_Pro_M280_M281_Printer_series_20200612.rfu.

Update: It looks like HP may have removed access to the firmware, so I have uploaded a copy here. Right-click to choose “Save Link As…” (or equivalent) to download to your local machine.

3. If you don’t have it already, go to hp.com to download and install the HP Smart application for your operating system. You only need this to identify the printer’s local IP address. There are other ways to identify the printer’s local IP, but I want this to be simple, so the HP Smart serves this purpose.

4. Open HP Smart application. On the left select Network Information and note the IP address of the printer.

5. Type the IP address from Step 4 into your browser of choice and hit enter. This should load the web interface for HP. Click on the green NETWORK tab at top of screen. On the left, click on ADVANCED (under Configuration). On the right click the FTP PRINTING checkbox. Scroll to the bottom, and click APPLY button to save changes.

6. Open your favorite FTP application and enter the IP address from Step 4 and connect (no username or password needed).

7. Using the FTP client find the local copy of the firmware file downloaded in Step 2 and drag-and-drop the HP_LaserJet_Pro_M280_M281_Printer_series_20190419.rfu file into the remote server FTP (mine was blank. No files were there.)

8. The printer should start to install the firmware and show the HP logo and PROGRAMMING… on the screen. Once it completes its update you should be all set.

9. Confirm the firmware date on the printer by using the control panel to navigate to Setup > Service > Firmware Datecode.

10. After I successfully updated I went back to the web interface and turned OFF the FTP printing, and then I disabled the auto updating setting in the printer’s settings as explained in Step 1. Since FTP Printing is off by default I assumed it was for security reasons and disabled it.

Hope this helps.

UPDATE: I am not providing any additional assistance, research, or help with this — especially for devices other than the one I own. As stated above, I know very little about printers. Please do not email or comment asking for help. Thanks for your understanding.

I will not approve any comments asking for help from me or attempting to use my site as a forum for assistance. Please visit the HP forums or Reddit if you need additional assistance.

25 thoughts on “How to downgrade HP Printer firmware via FTP

  1. This saved my printer! Thank you so much! I kept getting 79 service error and downgrading the firmware via your instructions worked!

  2. You’re a legend! I was just about the scrap this printer and go to a different manufacturer without this fix.

  3. you are a savior. Not going to buy another HP printer. For now, I am stuck with this. Not upgrading firmware again ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Sir, you’re a genius – this worked in less than 15 minutes. Four cartridges unbricked as if by magic at the touch of a (few) buttons!

  5. Can’t THANK YOU enough! Tried a few different methods without any joy but this worked instantly! Great job.

  6. Great job Scully. Tried a few other methods to downgrade without success but this worked instantly! Many thanks

  7. Hi Scully, thanx-a-lot!!!!

    I was looking for an option to downgrade firmware, not driven by the costs for HP toner. I’m not printing very much (still using the package that came with the printer), but after the firmware update has been installed (automatically), I wasn’t able to scan to a network share om my Synology NAS or on my Raspberry PI. Network printing still worked fine but scanning always resulted in an error messaging telling “Cannot find the remote server. Check server name or use IP Address to connect. Check that the remote computer is turned on.” Scanning to USB was working. As I lately haven’t changes anything in my networking environment, my I guessed the new HP firmware could be the culprit.
    Thanks to your description where to locate the previous firmware version and how ti install it on the printer, scanning to a network share is back:-)

    Do you know where to find a description of the changes made in the new firmware version? I’ve read that something has been changed to the WPA protocoll, but that shouldn’t affect writing to networks shares.

    Once again thank you very much!

  8. You’re my hero. As a “install stuff at residences” computer guy in North Atlanta, this printer is one I bought for myself as well as recommended for clients (easy Costco purchase – let me know when ya got it). Have had several instances of clients who lost their mind when their LINKYO cartridges stopped working. Just did downgrade for a client and worked great!

  9. Hi! Just wanted to say THANK YOU. I had found a thread on reddit about the firmware downgrade but it wouldn’t start on my HP printer since it was already on “error” mode with the unrecognized toner. Your solution worked and your explanations made it super easy ๐Ÿ™‚ Tanks a lot for sharing to help others! Best, Sandrine (FR)

  10. Can’t thank you enough for this! Have an older macOS and had to look around online a bit for an FTP source that would work for me. Once I found one, BAM I was in business using the .rfu and step-by-steps you provided. Thank you!!!!

  11. I can’t believe this worked. I know hardly anything about computers and I was able to follow these instructions and they worked beautifully. The only difference is that Transmit didn’t work, and since I’m on Windows, I downloaded SmartFTP. THANK YOU! You saved me $400 cause I don’t have to buy a new printer!!

  12. jammer bij mijn printer werkt het niet. HP laserjet pro MFP M281 fdw. Ik ga het later nog eens proberen… het moet gewoonweg gaan lukken, toch?

    Maar toch bedankt voor de informatie en download site!! ;o)

  13. I searched for hours and tried many things to solve this, and then I came across your solution. Thank you, you have saved me many ยฃ100’s that I would have had to reluctantly give to H P. Great stuff and thanks for sharing the solution. Cheers, Russ

  14. I can’t thank you enough. I actually have official HP ink so I think this is just really bad firmware that was downloaded this month. For me it meant that if I connected to my network I would get “79 Service” error not matter what I did – even with no other devices on the network and all print queues on attached computers (when I had them attached) which is one theoretical cause of this error. I didn’t have any Dimms installed either. However, this move back to the prior firmware did the trick. Not sure why I “smart” printers don’t retain a few prior versions of the firmware to allow simple rollback should you have a failed firmware. HP eliminating prior firmware versions from their website make me not want to buy HP printers going forward. My expensive printer was a brick without your great effort. Once I used FIlezilla to FTP the linked firmware version to my printer the printer went into the “Programming Mode” and a few stressful minutes later I was back up and running. Add me to the list of people you helped with this post.

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