IP Overview

TCP/IP is a suite of data communications protocols. Two of the more important protocols in the suite are the TCP and the IP.

IP provides the basic packet delivery service for all TCP/IP networks. IP is a connectionless protocol, which means that it does not exchange control information to establish an end-to-end connection before transmitting data. A connection-oriented protocol exchanges control information with the remote computer to verify that it is ready to receive data before sending it.

IP relies on protocols in other layers to establish the connection if connection-oriented services are required and to provide error detection and error recovery. IP is sometimes called an unreliable protocol, because it contains no error detection or recovery code.

IP Packets

A packet is a block of data that carries with it the information necessary to deliver it to a destination address. A packet-switching network uses the addressing information in the packets to switch packets from one physical network to another, moving them toward their final destination. Each packet travels the network independently of any other packet. The datagram is the packet format defined by IP.

IP Functions

Some of the functions IP performs include:

Moving Data Between the Network Access Layer and the Host-to-Host Transport Layer

When IP receives a datagram that is addressed to the local host, it must pass the data portion of the datagram to the correct host-to-host transport layer protocol. IP uses the protocol number in the datagram header to select the transport layer protocol. Each host-to-host transport layer protocol has a unique protocol number that identifies it to IP.

Routing Datagrams to Remote Hosts

Internet gateways are commonly referred to as IP routers because they use IP to route packets between networks. In traditional TCP/IP terms, there are only two types of network devices: gateways and hosts. Gateways forward packets between networks, and hosts do not. However, if a host is connected to more than one network (called a multihomed host), it can forward packets between the networks. When a multihomed host forwards packets, it acts like any other gateway and is considered to be a gateway.

Fragmenting and Reassembling Datagrams

As a datagram is routed through different networks, it may be necessary for the IP module in a gateway to divide the datagram into smaller pieces. A datagram received from one network may be too large to be transmitted in a single packet on a different network. This condition occurs only when a gateway interconnects dissimilar physical networks.

Each type of network has a maximum transmission unit (MTU) that determines the largest packet it can transfer. If the datagram received from one network is longer than the other network’s MTU, it is necessary to divide the datagram into smaller fragments for transmission in a process called fragmentation.

IP Layering

TCP/IP is organized into four conceptual layers (as shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1: TCP/IP Conceptual Layers

TCP/IP Conceptual Layers

Network Interface Layer

The network interface layer is the lowest level of the TCP/IP protocol stack. It is responsible for transmitting datagrams over the physical medium to their final destinations.

Internet Layer

The Internet layer is the second level of the TCP/IP protocol stack. It provides host-to-host communication. In this layer, packets are encapsulated into datagrams, routing algorithms are run, and the datagram is passed to the network interface layer for transmission on the attached network.

Transport Layer

The transport layer is the third level of the TCP/IP protocol stack. It is responsible for providing communication between applications residing in different hosts. By placing identifying information in the datagram (such as socket information), the transport layer enables process-to-process communication.

The transport layer provides either a reliable transport service (TCP) or an unreliable service (User Data Protocol). In a reliable delivery service, the destination station acknowledges the receipt of a datagram.

Application Layer

The application layer is the fourth and highest level of the TCP/IP protocol stack. Some applications that run in this layer are:

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