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28 Different Types of Internet Protocols: Plain English Explanations of TCP/IP to FTP

Understanding Internet Protocols: The Invisible Rules Powering Communication

The internet has transformed modern society, enabling instant global communication and access to information. But how exactly does it work under the hood? The internet is built on a foundation of technical standards called protocols which allow different computers and networks to communicate. Just like traffic rules allow vehicles to drive safely on roads, protocols are essential invisible rules that govern communication over the internet.

In this beginner‘s guide, we will demystify these critical internet protocols and explain in simple terms how they power communication across the web, email, networks and more.

What Are Internet Protocols and Why Do They Matter?

An internet protocol is a set of rules and procedures for transferring data between two or more network devices. Protocols determine how data is transmitted, routed, received and processed between points on the internet or other networks.

As networking experts Andrew Tanenbaum and David Wetherall explain, "The networking parts of the Internet are built entirely on protocols. The machines all speak protocols to one another."

So you can think of protocols as a common language that computers use to communicate. Just like human languages have grammar rules, protocols define a structured format that allows uniform communication to happen reliably.

Without universally accepted protocols, the global internet could not exist. Protocols enable your laptop to receive emails from across the world, view websites hosted on servers in another country, or make video calls to a friend overseas.

The most fundamental protocols that power communication on the internet today are TCP/IP.

How TCP/IP Protocols Work

TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. These protocols were standardized in the early 1980s and remain the backbone for communication across the internet.

As the name suggests, TCP/IP is actually a suite of interrelated protocols:

  • TCP handles assembling messages or file data into small packets and reassembling them reliably at the destination. It ensures packets don‘t arrive out of sequence or get lost.

  • IP handles addressing and routing these data packets from source to destination across multiple networks.

Together they allow reliable end-to-end communication and form the basic protocol stack used by most applications and services on the internet.

Here is a simple analogy to understand TCP/IP. Let‘s say Amy needs to send an important document overseas to her colleague Ravi. She breaks up the document into smaller chunks that can be individually numbered and packed securely (TCP). She then attaches clear addresses showing the source and destination (IP) before dispatching these packages.

The postal service routes each package across appropriate trucks, flights and delivery mechanisms to reach Ravi based on the addressing. Ravi receives all packages, reassembles them in order based on numbers and verifies the document he requested was delivered perfectly. This is similar to how TCP/IP transports your data across the global internet.

Real-World Usage of TCP/IP

Today, TCP/IP protocols are ubiquitous in powering most internet services and connectivity including:

  • Websites and Web Traffic: Data you send to and from websites uses HTTP protocol on top of TCP/IP.

  • Email: SMTP protocol relying on TCP/IP transmits your emails across internet.

  • File Transfers: FTP protocol utilizes TCP/IP to send and receive files.

  • Streaming Media: YouTube, Netflix and other streaming video leverage TCP/IP protocols.

  • Network Connectivity: TCP/IP enables local area networks and wide area connectivity.

In fact, most applications from web to email to file transfer leverage TCP/IP directly or indirectly. Alternate protocols like UDP are often used in gaming, live voice/video to prioritize speed over reliability. But TCP/IP remains the backbone for communication across the internet.

Choosing Between TCP vs UDP Protocols

There are some key differences between the TCP and UDP protocols which are built on top of the IP layer:

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol)

  • Reliable and accurate data transfer
  • Packets delivered in correct order
  • Congestion and traffic control
  • Slower transmission

UDP (User Datagram Protocol)

  • Unreliable but faster delivery
  • Packets may arrive out of order
  • Minimal error checking
  • Speed and efficiency focused

For applications like video streaming that need fast real-time data delivery, UDP packets allow low latency communication. But some packets may get lost.

For use cases like file transfer that need 100% accurate delivery, TCP ensures reliable transmission though with some lag. TCP also handles congestion in busy networks.

Common Protocols for Networking and Security

Beyond TCP/IP, many other standard internet protocols serve crucial networking, infrastructure and security functions:

DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) – Automatically assigns IP addresses to devices on a network for easy connectivity.

DNS (Domain Name System) – Maps domain names we type like to correct IP addresses routing traffic appropriately.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) – Transmits web page content over the internet that your browser displays.

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) – Secure encrypted version of HTTP used by websites for private data transfer and ecommerce transactions.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) – Enables easy file transfers between clients and servers over TCP/IP networks.

SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) – Facilitates sending and routing of email messages reliably between mail servers.

SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security) – Secure encryption protocols used by HTTPS, SMTP and other layers to communicate privately.

These and dozens more standardized protocols each serve a well-defined purpose in enabling modern networks and the internet to function efficiently. Over time, new protocols sometimes get introduced while some outdated ones fade away.

As an example, the HTTPS protocol introduced in 1994 brought secure encrypted web traffic which was absent in the early HTTP protocol from 1991. Today over 90% of traffic uses HTTP vs HTTPS due to security needs.

Obscure Protocols Powering Communication Under the Hood

There are hundreds of internet protocols serving critical functions ‘under the hood‘ enabling global internet infrastructure:

BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) manages routing data exchange between over 91,000 interconnected networks and providers across the internet. Complex algorithms determine most optimal paths.

OSPF (Open Shortest Path First) and RIP (Routing Information Protocol) enable routers within a single domain or network to dynamically share and update traffic routing for efficient data flow internally.

ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) and IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) handle network monitoring, troubleshooting and tracking multiuser connections to support infrastructure scalability and reliability.

Without this orchestra of protocols coordinating behind the scenes, our modern digital world will come to a grinding halt. But most users will rarely deal with these directly.

Enabling Real-Time Communication with RTP and RTSP

For applications like video chat, conferencing and live media streams that involve real-time communication:

RTP (Real Time Protocol) handles packaging media packets for transport while accommodating varying latency, delays and even packet loss to a degree.

RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) helps coordinate connection, transport controls and media delivery for efficient streaming.

This combination allows low latency real-time interaction critical for video calls or conference meetings to function without lag.

The Next Generation of Protocols

While fundamental protocols powering the internet remain consistent, there are always efforts to refine or enhance to meet evolving security and speed needs.

QUIC promises faster and more responsive web browsing. Proto-QUIC now backs services like Google Search and YouTube with promise of ubiquitous deployment across the web in future.

IPV6 addressing expands exponentially from the old IPv4 protocol to tackle global growth. As internet usage skyrockets globally, upgrading protocols is vital too.

The Invisible Protocols That Hold the Internet Together

While we interact directly with apps and websites, hundreds of internet protocols quietly power communication behind the scene across incredible global infrastructure from fiber optic submarine cables to cellular towers to orbiting satellites.

We hope this beginner‘s guide helps demystify the world of magical invisible protocols without which our hyperconnected world will come to a standstill. For everyday users, simply appreciating this internet protocol orchestra performing in perfect harmony lets us marvel at the modern connectivity revolution we often take for granted in our day-to-day lives.