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Internet protocol suite
The Internet protocol suite is the set of protocols that implement the
protocol stack on which the Internet runs. It is sometimes called the TCP/IP
protocol suite, after two of the many protocols that make up the suite: the
Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), which
were the first two defined. The authoritative reference on this subject is
RFC 1122, which can be found at http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1122.txt.
The Internet protocol suite can be described by analogy with the OSI model,
which describes the layers of a protocol stack, not all of which correspond
well with Internet practice. In a protocol stack, each layer solves a set of
problems involving the transmission of data, and provides a well-defined
service to the higher layers. Higher layers are logically closer to the user
and deal with more abstract data, relying on lower layers to translate data
into forms that can eventually be physically manipulated.
The Internet model was produced as the solution to a practical engineering
problem. The OSI model, on the other hand, was a more theoretical approach,
and was also produced at an earlier stage in the evolution of networks.
Therefore, the OSI model is easier to understand, but the TCP/IP model is
the one in actual use. It is helpful to have an understanding of the OSI
model before learning TCP/IP, as the same principles apply, but are easier
to understand in the OSI model.
Layers in the TCP/IP Stack
There is some discussion about where the distinctions between layers are
drawn. Since the TCP/IP and OSI protocol suites do not match precisely,
there is no one correct answer.
In addition, the OSI model is not really rich enough at the lower layers to
capture the true layering; there needs to be an extra layer (the
Internetworking layer) between the Transport and Network layers. Protocols
specific to a particular network type, but which are run on top of the basic
hardware framing, ought to be at the Network layer. Examples of such
protocols are ARP, and the Spanning Tree Protocol (used to keep redundant
bridges idle until they are needed). However, they are local protocols, and
operate beneath the internetwork functionality; to place both groups (not to
mention also protocols which run on top of the internetwork protocol, such
as ICMP) all at the same layer can be confusing.
The following diagram attempts to show where various TCP/IP and other
protocols would reside in the original OSI model:
7 Application e.g. HTTP, SMTP, SNMP, FTP, Telnet, NFS
6 Presentation e.g. XDR, ASN.1, SMB, NCP, AFP
5 Session e.g. ISO 8327 / CCITT X.225, RPC, NetBIOS, ASP
4 Transport e.g. TCP, UDP, RTP, SPX, ATP
3 Network e.g. IP, ICMP, IGMP, X.25, CLNP, ARP, OSPF, RIP, IPX, DDP
2 Data Link e.g. Ethernet, Token Ring, PPP, HDLC, Frame relay, ISDN,
1 Physical e.g. electricity, radio, laser
Commonly, the top three layers of the OSI model (Application, Presentation
and Session) are considered as a single Application Layer in the TCP/IP
suite. Because the TCP/IP suite has no unified session layer on which higher
layers are built, these functions are typically carried out (or ignored) by
individual applications. A simplified TCP/IP interpretation of the stack is
e.g. HTTP, FTP, DNS
Application (routing protocols like RIP, which for oscure reasons run
"layer 7" over UDP, may also be considered part of the network
e.g. TCP, UDP, RTP
4 Transport (routing protocols like OSPF, which run over IP, may also
be considered part of the Network layer)
For TCP/IP this is the Internet Protocol (IP)
3 Network (required protocols like ICMP and IGMP run over IP, but
may still be considered part of the network layer; ARP
does not run over IP)
2 Data Link e.g. Ethernet, Token Ring, etc.
1 Physical e.g. physical media, and encoding techniques
The Physical Layer
The Physical layer describes the physical characteristics of the
communication, such as conventions about the nature of the medium used for
communication (such as wires, fiber optic links or radio links), and all
related details such as connectors, channel codes and modulation, signal
strengths, wavelengths, low-level sychronization and timing and maximum
The Data-Link Layer
The Data link layer specifies how packets are transported over the physical
layer, including the framing (i.e. the special bit patterns which mark the
start and end of packets). Ethernet, for example, includes fields in the
packet header which specify which machine or machines on the network a
packet is destined for. Examples of Data-link layer protocols are Ethernet,
Wireless Ethernet, SLIP, Token Ring and ATM.
PPP is a little more complex, as it was originally specified as a separate
protocol which ran on top of another data link layer, HDLC/SDLC.
This layer is sometimes further subdivided into Logical Link Control and
Media Access Control.
The Network Layer
As originally defined, the Network layer solved the problem of getting
packets across a single network. Examples of such protocols are X.25, and
the ARPANET's Initial Connection Protocol.
With the advent of the concept of internetworking, additional functionality
was added to this layer, namely getting data from the source network to the
destination network. This generally involves routing the packet across a
network of networks, known as an Internet. In the Internet protocol suite,
IP performs the basic task of getting packets of data from source to
destination, and also supports other protocols, such as ICMP (used to
transmit diagnostic information about IP transmission) and IGMP (used to
manage multicast data). ICMP and IGMP are layered on top of IP but perform
network layer functions, illustrating an incompatibility between the
Internet and OSI models.
The Network Layer Internet Protocol (IP) can carry data for a number of
different higher level protocols. These protocols are each identified by a
unique IP Protocol Number. ICMP and IGMP are protocols 1 and 2,
The Transport Layer
The protocols at the Transport layer can solve problems like reliability
("did the data reach the destination?") and ensure that data arrives in the
correct order. In the TCP/IP protocol suite, transport protocols also
determine which application any given data is intended for.
The dynamic routing protocols which technically fit at this layer in the
TCP/IP Protocol Suite (since they run over IP) are generally considered to
be part of the Network layer; an example is OSPF (IP protocol number 89).
TCP (IP protocol number 6) is a "reliable", connection-oriented transport
mechanism providing a reliable byte stream, which makes sure data arrives
undamaged and in order, is re-transmitted if lost, and eliminates duplicate
copies. It also handles "emergency" content which must be processed out of
order (although technically it is not sent out-of-band). TCP will attempt to
deliver all data correctly in the specified sequence - this is its purpose
and main advantage over UDP, but it can be a disadvantage in real-time
streaming or routing applications with high layer 3 loss rates.
UDP (IP protocol number 17) is a lower-overhead, connectionless protocol. It
is known as an "unreliable" protocol - not because it is particularly
unreliable, but because it does not verify that packets have reached their
destination, and gives no guarantee that they will arrive in order. If an
Application requires these guarantees, it must provide them itself, or use
UDP is typically used for applications such as streaming media (audio and
video, etc) where the time TCP requires for retransmission and re-ordering
might not be available, or for simple query/response applications like DNS
lookups, where the overhead of setting up a reliable connection is
Both TCP and UDP are used to carry a number of higher-level applications.
The applications at any given network address are distinguished by their TCP
or UDP Port Number. By convention certain well known ports are associated
with specific applications.
RTP is an attempt to provide a compromise between TCP and raw UDP. Although
it uses the UDP packet format as a basis, it provides a function that is at
the same protocol layer.
The Application Layer
The Application layer is where most common network programs reside.
These programs and their corresponding protocols include HTTP (The World
Wide Web), FTP (File transport), SMTP (Email), SSH (Secure remote login),
DNS (Name <--> IP Address lookups) and many others.
Applications most commonly run on TCP or UDP, and are often associated with
a Well Known Port number. Some examples are:
* HTTP on TCP port 80 or 8080.
* SSH on TCP port 22,
* DNS lookups on UDP (or sometimes TCP) port 53,
* RIP routing updates on UDP port 520.
These ports were originally allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.