What is a network protocol? Simply put, it’s a rule that helps to define the ways in which connected devices communicate with one another across a network in order to exchange data quickly and securely. A set of network protocols acts as a common language between devices, enabling communication despite differences in hardware, software, and internal processes. There are quite a few different network protocol types.
Below, we’ve made a guide to network protocols. However, if you’re looking for a tool to help with network and bandwidth monitoring using many protocols, we recommend SolarWinds® NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (NTA) as a comprehensive yet easy-to-use option.
What Is a Network Protocol?
A network protocol is a predetermined collection of rules mandating how data is transmitted between devices connected to the same infrastructure. A network protocol allows devices to communicate with each other even though most devices have different internal processes, structures, and designs. In a way, a protocol is a set of rules that facilitate interaction, making it possible for two people on opposite sides of the world to converse easily, with minimal delay. This is why network protocols play such a vital role in twenty-first-century digital communications.
And much like the way two people who speak the same language are better able to make themselves understood by one another, a network protocol helps devices “speak the same language” when it comes to interacting with each other, as the rules for network protocols are predetermined and built right in the software and hardware a device uses. Without network protocols, local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) couldn’t function smoothly.
Network Protocol Types
There are three main network protocol types:
Network Communication Protocols
Computer networks can’t exist without communication protocols. A protocol focusing on communication is one that formally lays out the formats and rules for transferring data across an infrastructure. Of course, this type is essential for exchanging information between telecommunications computing systems and applies to hardware and software. Communication protocols deal with authentication and the detection of errors in addition to the syntax, synchronization, and semantics used by analog and digital communications; both need communication protocols to function correctly.
Some examples of communication protocols include:
- Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which allows communication between browser and server
- Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which separates data into packets
- User Datagram Protocol (UDP), which is for sending those data packets over the internet
Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which is text-based
Network Management Protocols
Network management protocols are a form of protocol focused on policies and procedures that define how a network is monitored, managed, and maintained. A management protocol is also used to implement these procedures across the network so that communication remains stable and healthy.
The policies enforced by network management protocols are applied to all devices, such as computers, switches, routers, and servers. These protocols also contain data like the host connection’s status, availability, packet or data loss, and other information relevant to the overall health of the connection. Because of the scope of this type of network protocol, management protocols are also used to troubleshoot connectivity problems between host and client devices.
Some common types include Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), a common protocol used to monitor and manage devices, and Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), used to diagnose problems by sending error messages and providing information regarding connectivity issues between devices.
Network Security Protocols
How Do Network Protocols Work?
One of the most popular models for facilitating communication is called the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. This seven-layer framework is an excellent demonstration of how protocols typically work in conjunction with one another and is a helpful tool for visualizing the communication process between two devices across each of the seven layers.
Generally, network protocols divide the communication process between tasks across each OSI model layer. At least one (but sometimes more) type operates at every layer to facilitate network communication. For example, the Internet Protocol (IP) routes data by managing information such as source data from packets, using address and destination to enable network-to-network communications. Therefore, IP is referred to as a network layer protocol.
Layers of the OSI Model
Here are the seven layers of OSI:
Layer 1: Physical
It enables physical connection between devices ad facilitates the transmission of data in bits while managing bit rate control, cabling or wireless technology, voltage, and topography, among other things.
Layer 2: Data Link
The data link layer helps create and terminate a connection by breaking packets into frames and transmitting them from source to destination. This layer fixes problems generated due to damaged, duplicate, or lost frames.
Layer 3: Network
This layer fulfills two primary functions—splitting segments into network packets and reassembling them at the receiver’s end and ensuring the transmission of packets across the physical network via the most optimal route.
Layer 4: Transport
Data incoming in its raw state from the preceding layer is broken into “segments” and is reassembled on the receiving end at the transport layer. This layer manages the flow control by transmitting data to match the receiving device’s connection speed and monitors error control by ensuring the received data is correct.
Layer 5: Session
This layer establishes a communication channel called a session between the devices wanting to exchange data. The session layer opens sessions and ensures they function effectively during data transmission and closes the respective sessions once the communication ends.
Layer 6: Presentation
It arranges data for the application layer by ensuring the correct representation concerning information syntax and semantics. It also controls file-level security by defining how the connected devices should encrypt and compress data to provide accurate data transmission at the receiver’s end.
Layer 7: Application
This top layer, the application layer, is accessed by end-user software such as web browsers and email clients. Protocols at this layer allow applications to send and receive information and present easy-to-understand and relevant data to users.
Using a Tool for Network Protocols
These network protocol types don’t merely govern how devices and processes work. They determine how each component of a network works together to communicate information safely and quickly. Network protocols are foundational to a healthy network; monitoring these protocols using automated tools is vital for maintaining this network. Consider a tool such as SolarWinds NetFlow Traffic Analyzer to get started quickly and easily with network and flow data monitoring today.