Internet protocols: making the world wide web possible

E-commerce, streaming platforms, work, social media, communication – whatever we’re using the internet for, we’re using it on a widespread, wide-ranging and constant basis.

DataReportal states that most of the connected post-pandemic world continues to grow faster than it did previously. Their Digital 2022 Global Overview Report, published in partnership with Hootsuite and We Are Social, states:

  • There are 4.95 billion internet users, accounting for 62.5 per cent of the global population.
  • Internet users grew by 192 million over the past 12 months.
  • The typical global internet user spends almost seven hours per day using the internet across all devices, with 35 per cent of that total focused on social media.
  • The number of people who remain “unconnected” to the internet has dropped below 3 billion for the first time.

With faster mobile connections, more powerful devices set to become even more accessible and more of our lives playing out digitally than ever before, greater convergence across digital activities is likely. Our reliance on it? Greater still.

But what of the structures and processes behind these billions of daily interactions? And just how many of us actually know how the internet works? Individuals with the skills and specialist expertise in the computer science space are in high demand across a huge range of industries – and there’s never been a better time to get involved.

What is internet protocol?

Cloudflare defines internet protocol (IP) as a set of rules for routing and addressing packets of data so that they can travel across networks and arrive at the correct destination. Essentially, it’s a communications protocol. Data packets – smaller pieces of data that traverse the internet that have been divided from greater quantities – each have IP information attached to them. It’s this IP information that routers use to ensure IP packets are data transferred to the right places.

Each device and each domain that has the ability to access the internet has a designated IP address in order for internet communication to work. As packets are sent to IP addresses, the information and data, therefore, arrives at its intended destination. IP is a host-to-host protocol, used to deliver a packet from a source host to a destination host.

There are two different versions of IP, providing unique IP identifiers to cover all devices: IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 – a 32-bit addressing scheme to support 4.3 billion devices – was originally thought to be sufficient to meet users’ needs, however the explosion in both number of devices and internet usage has meant it’s no longer enough. Enter IPv6 in 1998, a 128-bit addressing scheme to support 340 trillion trillion devices.

The OSI model

The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) network model is a conceptual framework that divides telecommunications and networking into seven layers.

 Each of the seven layers is tasked with its own function:

  • Physical – represents the electrical and physical system representation.
  • Data link – provides node-to-node data transfer and handles error correction from the physical layer.
  • Network – responsible for data packet forwarding and routing through different routers.
  • Transport – coordinates data transfer between end systems and hosts.
  • Session – a session allows two devices to communicate with each other, and involves set-up, coordination and termination.
  • Presentation – designated with the preparation, or translation, of application format into network format, or vice versa. For example, data encryption and decryption.
  • Application – closest to the end-user, application involves receiving information from users and displaying incoming data to users. For example, web browsers are communications that rely on layer seven.

The OSI model is valuable in understanding technical and security risks and vulnerabilities as it identifies where data resides, offers an inventory of applications, and facilitates understanding of cloud infrastructure migrations.

Transport protocols and other types of protocol

After a packet arrives at its destination, it’s handled accordingly by the transport layer – the fourth later in the OSI model – and the corresponding transport protocol, being used in relation to the IP. Transport layer protocols are port-to-port protocols working on top of internet protocols to deliver the data packet from the origin port to the IP services, before delivering it from the IP services to the destination port.

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) represent the transport layer. TCP is a connection-oriented protocol that provides complete transport layer services to applications – often referred to as Transmissions Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, TCP/ICP or the internet protocol suite. It features stream data transfer, reliability, flow control, multiplexing, logical connections, and full duplex. UDP provides non-sequenced transport functionality and is a connectionless protocol. It’s valuable when speed and size can be prioritised over security and reliability. The packet it produces is an IP datagram containing source port address, destination port address, total length and checksum information.

Other common types of protocol include:

  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP), where users transfer multimedia, text, programme and document files to each other.
  • Post Office Protocol (POP), for receiving incoming email communications.
  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), which transfers hypertext, the latter of which is encrypted.
  • Telnet, which provides remote login to connect one system with another.
  • Gopher, used for searching, retrieving and displaying documents from isolated web pages and sites.

There is also Ethernet protocol. Ethernet is a method of connecting computers and other devices in a physical space – via packet-based communication – and is often referred to as a Local Area Network (LAN). The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) maintains IEEE 802.3, a working group of standard specifications for Ethernet.

There exist a variety of other protocols that co-function alongside other primary protocols. These include, for example: ARP; DHCP; IMAP4; SIP; SMTP; RLP; RAP; L2TP; and TFTP.

Understand the internet protocol requirements of your business

Gain sought-after skills to excel in a high-demand field with the University of York’s online MSc Computer Science programme.

Our flexible programme is designed to boost your employability, preparing you for a rewarding career in all manner of industries. You’ll gain a strong foundation in a wide range of computing areas, including programming, architecture and operating systems, AI and machine learning, big data analytics, software engineering, cybersecurity, and much more.