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TCP/IP Model Layers

Each layer of the TCP/IP has a particular function to perform and each layer is completely separate from the layer(s) next to it. The communication process that takes place, at its simplest between two computers, is that the data moves from layer 4 to 3 to 2 then to 1 and the information sent arrives at the second system and moves from 1 to 2 to 3 and then finally to layer 4.

Application Layer

The application layer is concerned with providing network services to applications. There are many application network processes and protocols that work at this layer, including HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) and File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

At this layer sockets and port numbers are used to differentiate the path and sessions which applications operate. Most application layer protocols, especially on the server side, have specially allocated port numbers, e.g. HTTP = 80 and SMTP = 25, and FTP = 20 (Control), 21 (Data).

Transport Layer

This layer is concerned with the transmission of the data. The two main protocols that operate at this layer are Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP). TCP is regarded as being the reliable transmission protocol and it guarantees that the proper data transfer will take place. UDP is not as complex as TCP and as such is not designed to be reliable or guarantee data delivery. UDP is generally thought of as being a best effort data delivery, i.e. once the data is sent, UDP will not carry out any checks to see that it has safely arrived.

The Internet Layer

This is the layer that contains the packet construct that will be transmitted. This takes the form of the Internet Protocol (IP) which describes a packet that contains a source IP Address, destination IP Address and the actual data to be delivered.

Network Access Layer

This is the lowest level of the TCP/IP protocol stack and functions carried out here include encapsulation of IP packets into frames for transmission, mapping IP addresses to physical hardware addresses (MAC Addresses) and the use of protocols for the physical transmission of data.

Note: TCP/IP is actually a suite of protocols sometimes referred to as the Internet Protocol Suite.

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