PC Hardware

Network Protocols

A network protocol is a set of rules that govern the way computers communicate over a network. In order for computers using different software to communicate, they must follow the same set of networking rules and agreements, called protocols. A protocol is like a language; unless both computers are speaking and listening in the same language, no communication will take place.

Networking protocols are grouped according to their functions, such as sending and receiving messages from the NIC, or talking to the computer hardware and making it possible for applications to function in a network. Early computer networks had manufacturer-unique inflexible hardware and strict protocols. Today's protocols are designed to be open, which means they are not vendor-, hardware-, or software-specific. Protocols are generically referred to as protocol families or protocol suites because they tend to come in groups (usually originating from specific vendors).

The following is a list of standard network protocols:

  • IPX/SPX (Internetwork Packet Exchange/Sequenced Packet Exchange): The NetWare core protocol developed by Novell in the early 1980s.

  • NetBIOS/NetBEUI (Networked Basic Input/Output System/NetBIOS Enhanced User Interface): A local area protocol developed by IBM and refined by Microsoft; originally, the native protocol for LAN Manager and Windows NT. IBM developed NetBIOS as a way to permit small groups of computers to share files and printers efficiently. NetBIOS is the original edition; NetBEUI is an enhanced version for more powerful networks based on 32-bit operating systems.

  • TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol): A set of standard protocols and services. It was developed by the Department of Defense beginning in the early 1970s as part of an effort to link government computers. This project led to the development of the Internet. Because TCP/IP is the foundation of the Internet, as well as the most widely used networking protocol, it is a good choice for networks.

  • AppleTalk: A networking protocol utilized by Macintosh computers.

  • DLC (Data Link Control) protocol: The oldest protocol of this group. IBM developed DLC to connect token-ring-based workstations to IBM mainframe computers. Printer manufacturers have adopted the protocol to connect remote printers to network print servers.

Depending on the operating systems and the function of the network you work on, you will probably use more than one network protocol. It's important to get and install LAN drivers that can switch between one protocol and another as needed. The aforementioned protocol information provides you with a rudimentary understanding of basic network techniques and terminology. However, networks are a very complicated subject, and additional training resources should be obtained before installing a network on your own.