Choosing LAN Protocols

Choosing the correct protocol is an important consideration when configuring a network or adding systems to an existing network. The client and the server must use the same protocol in order for communication to take place. This section provides a brief summary of the commonly used protocols.

  • TCP/IP By far the most prevalent of network protocol suites, TCP/IP is available for almost every computing platform and has widespread industry support. The majority of LANs now use TCP/IP as the default protocol. Configuring TCP/IP connectivity requires the use of an IP address, a subnet mask, a default gateway, and possibly Domain Name Service (DNS) server information and Windows Internet Naming System (WINS) information.

  • IPX/SPX Novell invented and implemented IPX/SPX when it introduced NetWare in the 1980s. At that time, TCP/IP was for the most part an academic/military/government protocol, and Novell realized the need for a robust, routable protocol. IPX/SPX is one of the main reasons that Novell owned the networking market through the 1980s and most of the 1990s. IPX/SPX was also easy to install and configure. Today, TCP/IP has largely displaced IPX. One of the advantages of IPX is that workstation configuration is very simple. Generally speaking, the only item that might need to be configured is the frame type, which determines the format in which data is grouped into the frames that are placed on the network. Older versions of NetWare use a frame type called 802.3, whereas newer versions use a frame type called 802.2. Fortunately, most client software is capable of detecting the frame type automatically.

  • AppleTalk AppleTalk is aprotocol associated with Apple networks. The AppleTalk protocol is an established protocol suite having been introduced in the early 1980s, it soon became a viable internetworking protocol. Similar to the IPX/SPX and TCP/IP protocol suites, the AppleTalk protocol suite is composed of several protocols.

  • NWLink When Microsoft began working on adding support for interoperability with NetWare, it opted to develop its own fully compatible version of Novell's proprietary IPX/SPX. This development was necessary because earlier versions of NetWare did not support authentication over TCP/IP.

  • NetBEUI Microsoft chose IBM's NetBEUI as the protocol for its first networking implementation in the mid-1980s. One of the reasons Microsoft chose to base its early networking efforts on NetBEUI was the protocol's simplicity and speed. Microsoft wanted to offer a very simple, easy workgroup configuration. Name resolutions and network addressing, or more accurately naming, are both handled automatically with NetBEUI. There are no configuration issues, other than setting up the NIC and installing NetBEUI as the protocol. Because of NetBEUI's simplicity, administrators sometimes use it to troubleshoot hard-to-find communication problems between two machines. The simplicity of NetBEUI also created problems for Microsoft as the 1980s progressed. NetBEUI is a non-routable protocol, and as networks began to interconnect, Microsoft found its clients stranded within the confines of small LANs.

As mentioned earlier, TCP/IP is by far the most common of the networking protocols in use today. For that reason, the next section takes a more in-depth look at configuring client systems to use TCP/IP.