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What is TCP/IP?

By David White
Updated May 16, 2024
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Connection to the Internet these days has become so easy and user-friendly that we tend to forget the technical aspects of things like page loads and file downloads. Such operations still take place, even though the average user doesn't give them a second thought.

One such overlooked set of operations is TCP/IP. This often used but little understood set of operations stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. TCP/IP is the combination of the two and describes the set of protocols that allows hosts to connect to the Internet. In actuality, TCP/IP is a combination of more than those two protocols, but the TCP and IP parts of TCP/IP are the main ones and the only ones to become part of the acronym that describes the operations involved.

TCP/IP doesn't just happen. It is an active process; a set of constant communications between private computers and Internet servers. When a computer attempts to log on to the Internet, that computer's TCP/IP operations send a series of signals to Internet servers looking for a connection. In nearly all cases, access is successful. Some exceptions would keep access from being granted, but these exceptions are rare.

The two layers of TCP/IP are defined by the separate spelled-out versions. Transmission Control Protocol is the top layer; the one that converts messages or files into data packets that are transmitted over the network connection to the destination computer and then reassembled into messages or files that can be read by the destination user. The lower layer of TCP/IP, Internet Protocol, provides the transmitting operation, configuring the connection's address so that the information gets to the right place. IP could function without TCP, although it would be idle, but the reverse is not possible.

Despite the very evident presence of the word Internet in the spelled-out version of TCP/IP, the set of protocols can be used for internal use as well. Company intranets utilize TCP/IP protocols in order to set up a network within the company's computer framework. No outside connection develops, but connections are made between the company's servers and/or mainframes and individual computers. This sort of connectivity mimics the connection functionality of TCP/IP as used for Internet connections.

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Discussion Comments

By thumbtack — On Oct 07, 2010

@summertime, the problem you describe with having static systems trying to grab an IP address that has already been served by the DHCP device is a fairly easy fix.

If the dynamic machine is running a Microsoft Windows operating system then one could simply hit "repair connection" in the network adapter dialog box.

This will seek for a new IP address from the DHCP server and allow the static machine to properly take its rightful address.

My suggestion of course is to simply set all of your machines to a static address and create a table or spreadsheet with the routing information.

By summertime — On Oct 07, 2010

Things have certainly changed since the introduction of TCP/IP in 1974. I would highly doubt that Cerf and Kahn had any clue as to just how global the system they created would become.

My biggest frustration with the TCP/IP interface is that IP address handling on a local area network can become quite frustrating.

If you have some machines that need to have static IP's while others can be dynamic then you might run into a situation that can be very difficult to rectify.

If the dynamic machines are turned on before the static boxes then it is possible that they will be assigned a one of the addresses that the static box is manually set to.

This mix-up then requires a system administrator to properly input the settings and functions as to avoid a conflict like this.

By FrogFriend — On Oct 07, 2010

I am surprised at how long the TCP/IP protocol has managed to last as it has successfully navigated through several generational changes of networking systems in the short history of the internet.

There have been revisions and adjustments to some of the way things operate and this includes an improvement in the Internet Protocol layer of TCP/IP.

Moving from IP version 4 to version 6 has meant the changing of formats for how computers, servers and network switches handle Internet Protocol addressing.

By GraniteChief — On Oct 07, 2010

I don't think most people realize just how significant TCP/IP is to today's world of mass communications and advanced technology.

This system was authored by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn and was outlined in a paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

This group that is known for standardizing critical electronic equipment standards gave a basis on which the internet could move forward and succeed.

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