Introduction to TCP/IP
TCP and IP were developed by a Department of Defense (DOD)
research project to connect a number different networks designed by
different vendors into a network of networks (the "Internet"). It was
initially successful because it delivered a few basic services that
everyone needs (file transfer, electronic mail, remote logon) across a
very large number of client and server systems. Several computers in a
small department can use TCP/IP (along with other protocols) on a
single LAN. The IP component provides routing from the department to
the enterprise network, then to regional networks, and finally to the
global Internet. On the battlefield a communications network will
sustain damage, so the DOD designed TCP/IP to be robust and
automatically recover from any node or phone line failure. This design
allows the construction of very large networks with less central
management. However, because of the automatic recovery, network
problems can go undiagnosed and uncorrected for long periods of time.
As with all other communications protocol, TCP/IP is composed of layers:
Internet Protocol (IP) – IP is responsible for moving packet of data from node to node. IP
forwards each packet based on a four byte destination address (the IP
number). The Internet authorities assign ranges of numbers to different
organizations. The organizations assign groups of their numbers to
departments. IP operates on gateway machines that move data from
department to organization to region and then around the world.
Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) – TCP is responsible for verifying the correct delivery of data from
client to server. Data can be lost in the intermediate network. TCP
adds support to detect errors or lost data and to trigger
retransmission until the data is correctly and completely received.
Sockets – A socket is a name given to the package of subroutines that provide access to TCP/IP on most systems.
Network of Lowest Bidders
The Army puts out a bid on a computer and DEC wins the bid. The Air
Force puts out a bid and IBM wins. The Navy bid is won by Unisys. Then
the President decides to invade Grenada and the armed forces discover
that their computers cannot talk to each other. The DOD must build a
"network" out of systems each of which, by law, was delivered by the
lowest bidder on a single contract.
The Internet Protocol was developed to create a Network of Networks
(the "Internet"). Individual machines are first connected to a LAN
(Ethernet or Token Ring). TCP/IP shares the LAN with other uses (a
Novell file server, Windows for Workgroups peer systems). One device
provides the TCP/IP connection between the LAN and the rest of the
To insure that all types of systems from all vendors can communicate,
TCP/IP is absolutely standardized on the LAN. However, larger networks
based on long distances and phone lines are more volatile. In the US,
many large corporations would wish to reuse large internal networks
based on IBM’s SNA. In Europe, the national phone companies
traditionally standardize on X.25. However, the sudden explosion of
high speed microprocessors, fiber optics, and digital phone systems has
created a burst of new options: ISDN, frame relay, FDDI, Asynchronous
Transfer Mode (ATM). New technologies arise and become obsolete within
a few years. With cable TV and phone companies competing to build the
National Information Superhighway, no single standard can govern
citywide, nationwide, or worldwide communications.
The original design of TCP/IP as a Network of Networks fits nicely
within the current technological uncertainty. TCP/IP data can be sent
across a LAN, or it can be carried within an internal corporate SNA
network, or it can piggyback on the cable TV service. Furthermore,
machines connected to any of these networks can communicate to any
other network through gateways supplied by the network vendor.
Each technology has its own convention for transmitting messages
between two machines within the same network. On a LAN, messages are
sent between machines by supplying the six byte unique identifier (the
"MAC" address). In an SNA network, every machine has Logical Units with
their own network address. DECNET, Appletalk, and Novell IPX all have a
scheme for assigning numbers to each local network and to each
workstation attached to the network.
On top of these local or vendor specific network addresses, TCP/IP
assigns a unique number to every workstation in the world. This "IP
number" is a four byte value that, by convention, is expressed by
converting each byte into a decimal number (0 to 255) and separating
the bytes with a period. For example, the PC Lube and Tune server is
An organization begins by sending electronic mail to Hostmaster@INTERNIC.NET
requesting assignment of a network number. It is still possible for
almost anyone to get assignment of a number for a small "Class C"
network in which the first three bytes identify the network and the
last byte identifies the individual computer. The author followed this
procedure and was assigned the numbers 192.35.91.* for a network of
computers at his house. Larger organizations can get a "Class B"
network where the first two bytes identify the network and the last two
bytes identify each of up to 64 thousand individual workstations.
Yale’s Class B network is 130.132, so all computers with IP address
130.132.*.* are connected through Yale.
The organization then connects to the Internet through one of a dozen
regional or specialized network suppliers. The network vendor is given
the subscriber network number and adds it to the routing configuration
in its own machines and those of the other major network suppliers.
There is no mathematical formula that translates the numbers 192.35.91
or 130.132 into "Yale University" or "New Haven, CT." The machines that
manage large regional networks or the central Internet routers managed
by the National Science Foundation can only locate these networks by
looking each network number up in a table. There are potentially
thousands of Class B networks, and millions of Class C networks, but
computer memory costs are low, so the tables are reasonable. Customers
that connect to the Internet, even customers as large as IBM, do not
need to maintain any information on other networks. They send all
external data to the regional carrier to which they subscribe, and the
regional carrier maintains the tables and does the appropriate routing.
New Haven is in a border state; split 50-50 between the Yankees and the
Red Sox. In this spirit, Yale recently switched its connection from the
Middle Atlantic regional network to the New England carrier. When the
switch occurred, tables in the other regional areas and in the national
spine had to be updated, so that traffic for 130.132 was routed through
Boston instead of New Jersey. The large network carriers handle the
paperwork and can perform such a switch given sufficient notice. During
a conversion period, the university was connected to both networks so
that messages could arrive through either path.
Although the individual subscribers do not need to tabulate network
numbers or provide explicit routing, it is convenient for most Class B
networks to be internally managed as a much smaller and simpler version
of the larger network organizations. It is common to subdivide the two
bytes available for internal assignment into a one byte department
number and a one byte workstation ID.
The enterprise network is built using commercially available TCP/IP
router boxes. Each router has small tables with 255 entries to
translate the one byte department number into selection of a
destination Ethernet connected to one of the routers. Messages to the
PC Lube and Tune server (184.108.40.206) are sent through the national
and New England regional networks based on the 130.132 part of the
number. Arriving at Yale, the 59 department ID selects an Ethernet
connector in the C& IS building. The 234 selects a particular
workstation on that LAN. The Yale network must be updated as new
Ethernets and departments are added, but it is not affected by changes
outside the university or the movement of machines within the
An Uncertain Path
Every time a message arrives at an IP router, it makes an individual
decision about where to send it next. There is concept of a session
with a preselected path for all traffic. Consider a company with
facilities in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. It could
build a network from four phone lines forming a loop (NY to Chicago to
LA to Atlanta to NY). A message arriving at the NY router could go to
LA via either Chicago or Atlanta. The reply could come back the other
How does the router make a decision between routes? There is no correct
answer. Traffic could be routed by the "clockwise" algorithm (go NY to
Atlanta, LA to Chicago). The routers could alternate, sending one
message to Atlanta and the next to Chicago. More sophisticated routing
measures traffic patterns and sends data through the least busy link.
If one phone line in this network breaks down, traffic can still reach
its destination through a roundabout path. After losing the NY to
Chicago line, data can be sent NY to Atlanta to LA to Chicago. This
provides continued service though with degraded performance. This kind
of recovery is the primary design feature of IP. The loss of the line
is immediately detected by the routers in NY and Chicago, but somehow
this information must be sent to the other nodes. Otherwise, LA could
continue to send NY messages through Chicago, where they arrive at a
"dead end." Each network adopts some Router Protocol which periodically
updates the routing tables throughout the network with information
about changes in route status.
If the size of the network grows, then the complexity of the routing
updates will increase as will the cost of transmitting them. Building a
single network that covers the entire US would be unreasonably
complicated. Fortunately, the Internet is designed as a Network of
Networks. This means that loops and redundancy are built into each
regional carrier. The regional network handles its own problems and
reroutes messages internally. Its Router Protocol updates the tables in
its own routers, but no routing updates need to propagate from a
regional carrier to the NSF spine or to the other regions (unless, of
course, a subscriber switches permanently from one region to another).
IBM designs its SNA networks to be centrally managed. If any error
occurs, it is reported to the network authorities. By design, any error
is a problem that should be corrected or repaired. IP networks,
however, were designed to be robust. In battlefield conditions, the
loss of a node or line is a normal circumstance. Casualties can be
sorted out later on, but the network must stay up. So IP networks are
robust. They automatically (and silently) reconfigure themselves when
something goes wrong. If there is enough redundancy built into the
system, then communication is maintained.
In 1975 when SNA was designed, such redundancy would be prohibitively
expensive, or it might have been argued that only the Defense
Department could afford it. Today, however, simple routers cost no more
than a PC. However, the TCP/IP design that, "Errors are normal and can
be largely ignored," produces problems of its own.
Data traffic is frequently organized around "hubs," much like airline
traffic. One could imagine an IP router in Atlanta routing messages for
smaller cities throughout the Southeast. The problem is that data
arrives without a reservation. Airline companies experience the problem
around major events, like the Super Bowl. Just before the game,
everyone wants to fly into the city. After the game, everyone wants to
fly out. Imbalance occurs on the network when something new gets
advertised. Adam Curry announced the server at "mtv.com" and his
regional carrier was swamped with traffic the next day. The problem is
that messages come in from the entire world over high speed lines, but
they go out to mtv.com over what was then a slow speed phone line.
Occasionally a snow storm cancels flights and airports fill up with
stranded passengers. Many go off to hotels in town. When data arrives
at a congested router, there is no place to send the overflow. Excess
packets are simply discarded. It becomes the responsibility of the
sender to retry the data a few seconds later and to persist until it
finally gets through. This recovery is provided by the TCP component of
the Internet protocol.
TCP was designed to recover from node or line failures where the
network propagates routing table changes to all router nodes. Since the
update takes some time, TCP is slow to initiate recovery. The TCP
algorithms are not tuned to optimally handle packet loss due to traffic
congestion. Instead, the traditional Internet response to traffic
problems has been to increase the speed of lines and equipment in order
to say ahead of growth in demand.
TCP treats the data as a stream of bytes. It logically assigns a
sequence number to each byte. The TCP packet has a header that says, in
effect, "This packet starts with byte 379642 and contains 200 bytes of
data." The receiver can detect missing or incorrectly sequenced
packets. TCP acknowledges data that has been received and retransmits
data that has been lost. The TCP design means that error recovery is
done end-to-end between the Client and Server machine. There is no
formal standard for tracking problems in the middle of the network,
though each network has adopted some ad hoc tools.
Need to Know
There are three levels of TCP/IP knowledge. Those who administer a
regional or national network must design a system of long distance
phone lines, dedicated routing devices, and very large configuration
files. They must know the IP numbers and physical locations of
thousands of subscriber networks. They must also have a formal network
monitor strategy to detect problems and respond quickly.
Each large company or university that subscribes to the Internet must
have an intermediate level of network organization and expertise. Half dozen routers might be configured to connect several dozen
departmental LANs in several buildings. All traffic outside the
organization would typically be routed to a single connection to a
regional network provider.
However, the end user can install TCP/IP on a personal computer without
any knowledge of either the corporate or regional network. Three pieces
of information are required:
- The IP address assigned to this personal computer
The part of the IP address (the subnet mask) that distinguishes other
machines on the same LAN (messages can be sent to them directly) from
machines in other departments or elsewhere in the world (which are sent
to a router machine)
- The IP address of the router machine that connects this LAN to the rest of the world.
In the case of the PCLT server, the IP address is 220.127.116.11. Since
the first three bytes designate this department, a "subnet mask" is
defined as 255.255.255.0 (255 is the largest byte value and represents
the number with all bits turned on). It is a Yale convention (which we
recommend to everyone) that the router for each department have station
number 1 within the department network. Thus the PCLT router is
18.104.22.168. Thus the PCLT server is configured with the values:
My IP address: 22.214.171.124
Subnet mask: 255.255.255.0
Default router: 126.96.36.199
The subnet mask tells the server that any other machine with an IP
address beginning 130.132.59.* is on the same department LAN, so
messages are sent to it directly. Any IP address beginning with a
different value is accessed indirectly by sending the message through
the router at 188.8.131.52 (which is on the departmental LAN).