What is a Network Protocol?

A network protocol is a set of established rules that dictate how to format, transmit and receive data so that computer network devices. From servers and routers to endpoints. It can communicate, regardless of the differences in their underlying infrastructures, designs, or standards.

To successfully send and receive information, devices on both sides of a communication exchange must accept and follow protocol conventions. In networking, support for protocols can remain built into the software, hardware, or both.

Without computing protocols, computers and other devices would not know how to engage with each other. As a result, except for specialty networks built around a specific architecture, few networks would be able to function, and the internet as we know it wouldn’t exist. Virtually all network end-users rely on network protocols for connectivity.

How do Network Protocols work?

Network protocols break more extensive processes into discrete, narrowly defined functions and tasks across every network level. In the standard model, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, one or more network protocols govern activities at each layer in the telecommunication exchange. Lower layers deal with data transport, while the upper layers in the OSI model deal with software and applications.

A set of cooperating network protocols is called a protocol suite. The Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite, typically used in client-server models, includes numerous protocols across layers — such as the data, network, transport, and application layers. Working together to enable internet connectivity. These include the following:

  • TCP, which uses a set of rules to exchange messages with other Internet points at the information packet level;
  • User Datagram Protocol, or UDP, which acts as an alternative communication protocol to TCP and uses to establish low-latency and loss tolerating connections between applications and the internet;
  • IP, which uses a set of rules to send and receive messages at the level of IP addresses; and
  • additional network protocols, including Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and File Transfer Protocol (FTP), each of which has defined sets of rules to exchange and display information.

Every packet transmitted and received over a network contains binary data. Most computing protocols will add a header at the beginning of each box to store information about the sender and the message’s intended destination. Some protocols may also include a footer at the end with additional information. Network protocols process these headers and footers as part of the data moving among devices to identify their kind messages.

Major Types of Network Protocols

Generally speaking, there are three types of protocols in networking — communication, such as Ethernet; management, such as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP); and security, such as Secure Shell, or SSH.

Falling into these three broad categories are thousands of network protocols that uniformly handle various defined tasks, including authentication, automation, correction, compression, error handling, file retrieval, file transfer, link aggregation, routing, semantics, synchronization, and syntax.

How to Implement Network Protocols?

For network protocols to work, they must remain coded within software – either as part of the computer’s operating system (OS) or as an application – or implemented within its hardware. Most modern OSes possess built-in software services that are prepared to implement some network protocols. Other applications, such as web browsers, designs with software libraries that support the protocols necessary for the application to function. In addition, TCP/IP and routing protocol support is implemented in direct hardware for enhanced performance.

Whenever a new protocol implements, it adds to the protocol suite. The organization of protocol suites consider monolithic since all protocols are stored in the same address. And build on top of one another.

What are the Vulnerabilities of Network Protocols?

Network protocols not designe for security. Their lack of protection can sometimes enable malicious attacks, such as eavesdropping and cache poisoning, to affect the system. The most common attack on network protocols is advertising false routes, causing traffic to go through compromised hosts instead of the appropriate ones.

Network protocol analyzers are tools that protect systems against malicious activity by supplementing firewalls, antivirus programs, and antispyware software.