Simplex, Full-Duplex and Half-Duplex Operation
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Another aspect of performance that is worthy of some attention is the mode of operation of the network or connection. Obviously, whenever we connect together device A and device B, there must be some way for A to send to B and B to send to A. Many people dont realize, however, that networking technologies can differ in terms of how these two directions of communication are handled. Depending on how the network is set up, and the characteristics of the technologies used, performance may be improved through the selection of performance-enhancing modes.
Let's begin with a look at the three basic modes of operation that can exist for any network connection, communications channel, or interface.
In simplex operation, a network cable or communications channel can only send information in one direction; it's a one-way street. This may seem counter-intuitive: what's the point of communications that only travel in one direction? In fact, there are at least two different places where simplex operation is encountered in modern networking.
The first is when two distinct channels are used for communication: one transmits from A to B and the other from B to A. This is surprisingly common, even though not always obvious. For example, most if not all fiber optic communication is simplex, using one strand to send data in each direction. But this may not be obvious if the pair of fiber strands are combined into one cable.
Simplex operation is also used in special types of technologies, especially ones that are asymmetric. For example, one type of satellite Internet access sends data over the satellite only for downloads, while a regular dial-up modem is used for upload to the service provider. In this case, both the satellite link and the dial-up connection are operating in a simplex mode.
Technologies that employ half-duplex operation are capable of sending information in both directions between two nodes, but only one direction or the other can be utilized at a time. This is a fairly common mode of operation when there is only a single network medium (cable, radio frequency and so forth) between devices.
While this term is often used to describe the behavior of a pair of devices, it can more generally refer to any number of connected devices that take turns transmitting. For example, in conventional Ethernet networks, any device can transmit, but only one may do so at a time. For this reason, regular (unswitched) Ethernet networks are often said to be half-duplex, even though it may seem strange to describe a LAN that way.
In full-duplex operation, a connection between two devices is capable of sending data in both directions simultaneously. Full-duplex channels can be constructed either as a pair of simplex links (as described above) or using one channel designed to permit bidirectional simultaneous transmissions. A full-duplex link can only connect two devices, so many such links are required if multiple devices are to be connected together.
Note that the term full-duplex is somewhat redundant; duplex would suffice, but everyone still says full-duplex (likely, to differentiate this mode from half-duplex).
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