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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  The Open System Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model
      9  OSI Reference Model Layers

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Network Layer (Layer 3)
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Session Layer (Layer 5)
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Transport Layer (Layer 4)
(Page 1 of 3)

The fourth and “middle” layer of the OSI Reference Model protocol stack is the transport layer. I consider the transport layer in some ways to be part of both the lower and upper “groups” of layers in the OSI model. It is more often associated with the lower layers, because it concerns itself with the transport of data, but its functions are also somewhat high-level, resulting in the layer having a fair bit in common with layers 5 through 7 as well.

Recall that layers 1, 2 and 3 are concerned with the actual packaging, addressing, routing and delivery of data; the physical layer handles the bits; the data link layer deals with local networks and the network layer handles routing between networks. The transport layer, in contrast, is sufficiently conceptual that it no longer concerns itself with these “nuts and bolts” matters. It relies on the lower layers to handle the process of moving data between devices.

The transport layer really acts as a “liaison” of sorts between the abstract world of applications at the higher layers, and the concrete functions of layers one to three. Due to this role, the transport layer’s overall job is to provide the necessary functions to enable communication between software application processes on different computers. This encompasses a number of different but related duties

Modern computers are multitasking, and at any given time may have many different software applications all trying to send and receive data. The transport layer is charged with providing a means by which these applications can all send and receive data using the same lower-layer protocol implementation. Thus, the transport layer is sometimes said to be responsible for end-to-end or host-to-host transport (in fact, the equivalent layer in the TCP/IP model is called the “host-to-host transport layer”).

Transport Layer Services and Transmission Quality

Accomplishing this communication between processes requires that the transport layer perform several different, but related jobs. For transmission, the transport layer protocol must keep track of what data comes from each application, then combine this data into a single flow of data to send to the lower layers. The device receiving information must reverse these operations, splitting data and funneling it to the appropriate recipient processes. The transport layer is also responsible for defining the means by which potentially large amounts of application data are divided into smaller blocks for transmission.

Another key function of the transport layer is to provide connection services for the protocols and applications that run at the levels above it. These can be categorized as either connection-oriented services or connectionless services. Neither is better or worse than the other; they each have their uses. While connection-oriented services can be handled at the network layer as well, they are more often seen in the transport layer in the “real world”. Some protocol suites, such as TCP/IP, provide both a connection-oriented and a connectionless transport layer protocol, to suit the needs of different applications.

The transport layer is also the place in the layer stack where functions are normally included to add features to end-to-end data transport. Where network layer protocols are normally concerned with just “best effort” communications, where delivery is not guaranteed. Transport layer protocols are given intelligence in the form of algorithms that ensure that reliable and efficient communication between devices takes place. This encompasses several related jobs, including lost transmission detection and handling, and managing the rate at which data is sent to ensure that the receiving device is not overwhelmed.

Transmission quality, meaning ensuring that transmissions are received as sent, is so important that some networking references define the transport layer on the basis of reliability and flow-control functions. However, not all transport layer protocols provide these services. Just as a protocol suite may have a connection-oriented and a connectionless transport layer protocol, it may also have one that provides reliability and data management services, and one that does not. Again, this is the case with TCP/IP: there is one main transport layer protocol, TCP, that includes reliability and flow control features, and a second, UDP, that doesn't.


Previous Topic/Section
Network Layer (Layer 3)
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Pages in Current Topic/Section
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23
Next Page
Session Layer (Layer 5)
Next Topic/Section

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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005

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