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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  TCP/IP Protocol Suite and Architecture

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TCP/IP Overview and History
(Page 3 of 3)

Important Factors in the Success of TCP/IP

TCP/IP was at one time just “one of many” different sets of protocols that could be used to provide network-layer and transport-layer functionality. Today there are still other options for internetworking protocol suites, but TCP/IP is the universally-accepted world-wide standard. Its growth in popularity has been due to a number of important factors. Some of these are historical, such as the fact that it is tied to the Internet as described above, while others are related to the characteristics of the protocol suite itself. Chief among these are the following:

  • Integrated Addressing System: TCP/IP includes within it (as part of the Internet Protocol, primarily) a system for identifying and addressing devices on both small and large networks. The addressing system is designed to allow devices to be addressed regardless of the lower-level details of how each constituent network is constructed. Over time, the mechanisms for addressing in TCP/IP have improved, to meet the needs of growing networks, especially the Internet. The addressing system also includes a centralized administration capability for the Internet, to ensure that each device has a unique address.

  • Design For Routing: Unlike some network-layer protocols, TCP/IP is specifically designed to facilitate the routing of information over a network of arbitrary complexity. In fact, TCP/IP is conceptually concerned more with the connection of networks, than with the connection of devices. TCP/IP routers enable data to be delivered between devices on different networks by moving it one step at a time from one network to the next. A number of support protocols are also included in TCP/IP to allow routers to exchange critical information and manage the efficient flow of information from one network to another.

  • Underlying Network Independence: TCP/IP operates primarily at layers three and above, and includes provisions to allow it to function on almost any lower-layer technology, including LANs, wireless LANs and WANs of various sorts. This flexibility means that one can mix and match a variety of different underlying networks and connect them all using TCP/IP.

  • Scalability: One of the most amazing characteristics of TCP/IP is how scalable its protocols have proven to be. Over the decades it has proven its mettle as the Internet has grown from a small network with just a few machines to a huge internetwork with millions of hosts. While some changes have been required periodically to support this growth, these changes have taken place as part of the TCP/IP development process, and the core of TCP/IP is basically the same as it was 25 years ago.

  • Open Standards and Development Process: The TCP/IP standards are not proprietary, but open standards freely available to the public. Furthermore, the process used to develop TCP/IP standards is also completely open. TCP/IP standards and protocols are developed and modified using the unique, democratic “RFC” process, with all interested parties invited to participate. This ensures that anyone with an interest in the TCP/IP protocols is given a chance to provide input into their development, and also ensures the world-wide acceptance of the protocol suite.

  • Universality: Everyone uses TCP/IP because everyone uses it!

This last point is, perhaps ironically, arguably the most important. Not only is TCP/IP the “underlying language of the Internet”, it is also used in most private networks today. Even former “competitors” to TCP/IP such as NetWare now use TCP/IP to carry traffic. The Internet continues to grow, and so do the capabilities and functions of TCP/IP. Preparation for the future continues, with the move to the new IP version 6 protocol in its early stages. It is likely that TCP/IP will remain a big part of internetworking for the foreseeable future.

Key Concept: While TCP/IP is not the only internetworking protocol suite, it is definitely the most important one. Its unparallaled success is due to a wide variety of factors. These include its technical features, such as its routing-friendly design and scalability, its historical role as the protocol suite of the Internet, and its open standards and development process, which reduce barriers to acceptance of TCP/IP protocols.



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