Networking Protocols, Ports, Standards, and Organizations What Does it All Mean?
By Stephen Bucaro
To network computers and devices, they must have some medium of communications. Examples
of network communication media are: electric signals, light signals, and radio waves. But
they need another important thing, a set of rules that all devices agree to. For example; what
voltage will the signal be? what shape will the signal be? what frequency will the signal
be? what encoding will be used? This set of rules is called a protocol.
Examples of protocols are: HTTP (Hypertxt Protocol), SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol),
FTP (File Transfer Protocol), DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). There are many
more protocols (Wikipedia lists 30 different network protocols), and several different
versions of many of them.
Not only do these protocols need to communicate between network computers and devices, but
there often needs to be communication between different protocols. Protocols often communicate
with each other in what called a protocol stack. Wikipedia lists over different ways
protocols arrange into stacks.
Another thing a protocol needs is an agreed upon port to connect to. A port can be
a specific electronic connection, or it can be a specific software interface to a process or
a network service. Ports are identified by numbers, and each different protocol has a specific
port that it uses. For example HTTP uses port number 80. SMTP uses port number 25. FTP uses
port number 20. DHCP uses port number 68. These are referred to as Well-known ports.
However, a network administrator may configure a different port for any protocol.
Yet another thing a protocol needs is a standard. A standard is a detailed
specification which defines not only the characteristics of the protocol's signal, but also
the design of the hardware interfaces. There are many different manufacturers of networking
devices, and there is no law that forces any manufacturer to comply with a standard. But
network administrators expect equipment from different manufacturers to operate together.
So if a manufacturer does not comply with a standard, good luck selling your products.
Networking standards are developed by networking standards organizations. The mother
of all standards, the OSI model (Open Systems Interconnection model) is maintained by the
ISO (International Organization for Standardization). The HTTP standard is maintained by the
IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) and the (W3C) World Wide Web Consortium. Many
protocol standards are maintained by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers).
Different standards organizations follow different procedures for developing a standard.
Most protocol standards start at the IETF. It starts with a document called a RFC (Request
For Comments). If the standard is determined to desirable, the development of the new standard
is carried out by a working group. Membership in a working group is voluntary and any
interested party can participate.
The working group will create a draft of the standard and place it online. The document may
remain as an online draft for up to six months while interested parties can review and
comment on it. Based upon those comments, the working group may publish a revised version of the draft.
Once the draft standard has been commented on, tested, reviewed, and often implemented by
several companies, it is considered sufficiently stable that it is released as an Internet
Standard. As you can see, it's a long and complex path for an RFC to become a Standard.
Many RFCs never reach Internet Standard status.
More Networking Protocols and Standards:
• The TCP/IP protocol Datagram Format
• OSI Transport Layer
• IPv6 Address Auto Configuration
• IPv6 Address Types and Scopes
• Ports and Sockets
• IPv4 Datagram Fields
• The OSI Network Layer
• IPv6 Address Format
• IPv4 Address Classes
• An Introduction to the Types of VPNs