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Computer Network Protocols Explained, The Basic Types

To an end-user, accessing the internet or accessing a different system on a LAN all appear to be simple operations whereby information is sent and exchanged over a GUI. In reality, there is a lot going on under the hood for this communication to happen and complete without any errors. The backbone of it all is based on network protocols; rules that tell the various devices how to transmit information.

Network Protocols

Network protocols are essentially how devices identify each other within a network and send and receive information. Think of it as sending snail mail; you have to have the right kind of envelop and you must use the correct number of postage stamps. These are the protocols you have to follow if you want to send your letter. Much like this, network protocols determine what rules information that is being transmitted over a network must follow in order for it to get to its destinations. This might be a local area network or it might be your cellular network. Anytime two devices ‘talk’ to each other, a network protocol is involved ensuring the message gets across to the correct device.

There are three major types of network protocols end-users use, though they may not be aware of it; Internet Protocols, Wireless Network Protocols, and Network Routing Protocols.

Internet Protocols (IP)

Internet Protocols are a large family of protocols, each with their own purpose. We commonly know about the internet protocol as the one that handles communication when we access something over the internet. This protocol doesn’t work alone. There are other high and low level protocols that work with it.

High level protocols that work with the internet protocol handle interactions with browsers and apps. Your browser has built-in services to handle these high level protocols. HTTP and FTP are two common examples of a high level protocol.

Low level protocols that work with the internet protocol usually handle communication between different hardware components of a system.

Wireless Network Protocols

Wireless protocols are ones that end users, particularly those that use smartphones i.e. everyone, are more familiar with. These protocols include WiFi, Bluetooth, and LTE, among others. When you connect to your cellular network and access your email, you’re basically using the LTE protocol to send and receive information. Of course, if your network doesn’t support LTE, you’re using a different protocol.

Wireless network protocols differ from internet protocols in that they must be able to reliably transmit information over long distances where network coverage may vary, and where security might be an issue.

Network Routing Protocols

Network routing protocols, as you can guess from the name, are protocols used by network routers. They can identify other routers on the network and manage information sent between different routers. When you send a message over a wireless network, the network routing protocols are used to determine where the message is to be sent. Different routers use different network routing protocols for example, link state protocols are used by routers to build a complete map of all nodes on a network.

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