Why Are Network Protocols Needed?
By Alan Hughes
The growth of the Internet and networking in general has facilitated improved communications within and between companies, and individuals too. Network equipment vendors are numerous, providing varied levels of scalability and security in their offerings, and a given business is likely to use equipment from more than one vendor. Network protocols facilitate communication between these heterogeneous pieces of hardware.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the creators of early networks such as ARPAnet had a goal of creating a network that could involve different hardware and software and still communicate. In order to make this internetworking a reality, they developed a framework of protocols that defined what a data packet on the network was to look like. The result of their work became what we know today as the Internet.
Protocols are simply rules for communication. As applied to humans, protocols typically refer to rules of communication between people of different cultures or people in specific situations. A violation of a protocol can lead to a breakdown in communication. Something as simple as placing a business card in your pocket may offend your Asian business partner because it violates etiquette, a type of protocol. Protocols are critical for communications of all types.
Computer networks provide a communications path within and between businesses of various types in different locations around the world. Computer networks employ various types of equipment, including routers, switches, hubs and network interface cards. These pieces of equipment come from different vendors, but they must all work together or the network does not operate correctly.
Network protocols define the rules that govern network communication. These rules determine things like packet format, type and size. They also determine what happens when an error occurs, and which part of the network is supposed to handle the error and how. Network protocols work in layers, the highest being what the user sees, and the lowest being the wire that the information travels across. These layers communicate with each other according to the rules, allowing human communication to occur accurately and efficiently.
Alan Hughes has more than 30 years of experience in IT including mainframes, programming, client/server, networks, project management, security, disaster recovery, information systems and hardware. He holds a master's degree in applied computer science and several certifications. He currently teaches information technology at the university level.