Computer Network Connections Project
In this paper, I’ll be exploring the differences in presenting technical communications to audiences of varying knowledge. The topic of these two general summaries will be the manner in which computers connect to each other, including summaries of several communication protocols, how information traverses the network, and how it arrives at its destination and is read by the receiving computer.
The first summary presented will be addressed to readers who are totally unaware of these concepts, and the second is designed to be a quick review of information for peers in the IT field who already work with computer networks.
COMPUTER NETWORK CONNECTIONS – SIMPLE OVERVIEW
For some, communication between computers may be something of a mystery. You simply connect a computer to your home or work router, put in the Wi-Fi password, and you’ve magically gained access to the World Wide Web and all of its information.
What happens during your Internet browsing sessions – how you receive data, how you stream videos via services such as Netflix, and other thoughts- are seemingly too difficult to understand. In this summary, however, I hope to unravel the enigma of Computer Networking’s basic concepts.
Concept 1: Connecting Computers
The first step in understanding communications is to understand how computers are connected. Without delving into too much technical detail, connection is simple – your computer will make contact with (either by Ethernet cables, Fiber Optics, Wireless connection, etc.) a router or other device. These allow the two devices to send electrical currents and radio waves, which is vital to communication – without sending currents or radio waves, no communication can be achieved. (Marshall Brian, n.d.)
While the specifics of these connections vary (i.e., different hardwired connection types such as Ethernet, Fiber Optic, and multiple wireless frequencies), as long as computers link via these methods, networking can be achieved. Computers will send binary bits, either a 1 or 0, by sending an electrical current or pausing, respectively. These 1’s and 0’s translate into information, though its translation is rather complex, so we’ll move onto the next concept.
Concept 2: Packets
Here’s where things start to get more complex than hooking up a cable and sending currents. Although computers send information via bits, there needs to be a pattern to the madness. This takes shape in the form of packets – little packages containing information used to send and receive messages.
When you tell your computer to go to www.stevenson.edu , for example, your computer sends many small groups of information out through the router – each packet (much like real life postal mail) has a send and receive address so that routers know where its destination is, allowing it to forward the packet.
When the web server receives your packets, it sends you back information containing what you need to construct the website. From here, you can send information back and forth to accomplish tasks like signing up for newsletters, purchasing items off of Amazon.com, etc.
Concept 3: Protocols
Finally, we’ll quickly explain how different packets communicate. There are two major protocols for packets traversing networks:
The first protocol, “TCP” (Transmission Control Protocol), is described as a “chatty” protocol. This means that every time you send a packet to another machine, the machine acknowledges that it received all packets from you (some may be lost due to various issues).
If it did not receive all packets, it informs you, and your machine must resend the missing packet so that your message can be totally complete. This type of protocol is vital when you need communication to be utterly complete, and not miss anything. (i.e., emails and other messages – you don’t want part of your email missing when the boss receives it).
The second protocol, UDP (User Datagram Protocol), is far simpler. If you connect to Netflix using TCP, find a show you want to watch, and hit play, you’ll find that your movie is sending its packets to you via UDP, not TCP.
UDP is far more efficient than communicating streams than TCP. The reason for this is that UDP, unlike TCP, does not make sure that you receive all packets. Because it’s sending so many packets to you constantly as you watch, it doesn’t have time to resend a missing packet. You’ll notice missing packets when the quality of the picture becomes slightly blocky or it lags momentarily.
While this still may be hard to grasp, hopefully some of these base concepts will stay with you. Networking is a very complex subject, and thoroughly explaining every detail would be cumbersome and tedious. Thus, this document was designed to present a few base concepts at a (hopefully) understandable level.
Remember: information is sent via little packets – much like the mail service – which contain requests of the information you send or receive. The two protocols for sending packets are UDP and TCP – TCP is useful for most connections, as it ensures every bit of data is received by you. As UDP doesn’t ask to make sure you received the information, it’s useful for streaming and other similar uses.
COMPUTER NETWORK CONNECTIONS – PEER OVERVIEW
In this summary, I’ll be reviewing the basic fundamentals of Networking, as a simple refresher for troubleshooting in the workplace.
Bits and Binary
Connecting your machine is possible via one of many cable types or wireless connections. Some common methods of connections are:
Once you’ve connected your machine to a router or another machine via one of these methods, your computer will begin transmitting by an electrical current or radio waves to send bits to the receiving machine, which are then formed into information for the receiving machine. These signals are either “on” or “off,” depending on whether the machine receives a signal or a pause during the message. Of course, these are translated to binary digits – 1’s and 0’s, to create the information. Packets
When sending information across the network, information is formed into packets. These packets include the destination and source IP Addresses within its header, and the information deeper inside. While traversing the network, routers will only check the source and destination addresses, as the information inside is irrelevant to the router itself.
Once the packet arrives at the destination, the receiving machine peels off the OSI layers of the packet, and reads the information within. These packets’ headers and processes vary depending on the protocol of the packet itself.
The main two protocols should be familiar – TCP and UDP. TCP, or Transmission Control Protocol, is used for most communication across the internet. It’s a connection-oriented protocol, which beings its communications via the “Three-way Handshake” (Syn, Syn-Ack, Ack). Once communication has been established, TCP will ensure that no packet is missing, because if it is, information vital to the message will be missing.
UDP, on the other hand, is a connectionless protocol, meaning it’s of little consequence whether the receiving device gets every single packet. UDP will not check with the machine, and will continue sending its own information to the receiver. As such, it’s extremely useful for streaming services and anything of similar nature.
Marshall Brian, T. W. (n.d.). How WiFi Works. Retrieved from HowStuffWorks: