Transport Services Provided by The Internet

Transport Services Provided by The Internet


Up until this point, we have been considering transport services that a computer network could provide in general. Let’s now get more specific and examine the type of transport services provided by the internet. The internet (and, more generally , TCP/IP networks) makes two transport protocols available to applications, UDP and TCP. When you (as an application developer) create a new network application for the internet, one of the first decisions you have to make is whether to use UDP or TCP. Each of these protocols offers a different set of services to the invoking applications. Figure 2.4 shows the service requirements for some selected applications.

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TCP Services

The TCP service model includes a connection-orientation service and reliable data transfer service. When an application invokes TCP as its transport protocol, the application receives both of these services from TCP.

  1. Connection-Oriented Service : TCS has the client and server exchange transport-layer control information with each other before the application-level messages begin to flow. This so-called handshaking procedure alerts the client and server, allowing them to prepare for an onslaught of packets. After the handshaking phase, a TCP connection is said to exist between the sockets and the two processes. The connection is a full-duplex connection in that the two processes can send messages to each other over the connection at the same time. When the application finishes sending messages, it must tear down the connection. In module 3 we’ll discuss connection-oriented service in detail and examine how it is implemented.
  2. Reliable Data Transfer Service : The communicating processes can rely on TCP to deliver all data sent without error and in the proper order. When one side of the application passes a stream of bytes into a socket, it can count on TCP to deliver the same stream of bytes to the receiving socket, with no missing or duplicate bytes.

TCP also includes a congestion-control mechanism, a service for the general welfare of the internet rather than for the direct benefit of the communicating processes. The TCP congestion-control mechanism throttles a sending process (client or server) when the network is congested between sender and receiver. As we will see in Module 3, TCP congestion control also attempts to limit each TCP connection to its fair share of network bandwidth.

Securing TCP

Nether TCP nor UDP provide any encryption – the data that the sending process passes into its socket is the same data that travels over the network to the destination process. So, for example, if the sending process sends a password in cleartext (i.e. unencrypted) into its socket, the cleartext password will travel over all the links between sender and receiver, potentially getting sniffed and discovered at any of the intervening links. Because privacy and other security issues have become critical for many applications, the internet community has developed an enhancement for TCP, called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). TCP-enchanced-with-SSL not only does everything that traditional TCP does but also provides critical process-to-process security services, including encryption, data integrity, and end-point authentication. We emphasize that SSL is not a third internet transport protocol, on the same level as TCP and UDP, but instead is an enhancement of TCP, with the enhancements being implemented in the application layer. In particular, if an application wants to use the services of SSL, it needs to include SSL code (existing, highly optimized libraries and classes) in both the client and server sides of the application. SSL has its own socket API that is similar to the traditional TCP socket API. When an application uses SSL, the sending process passes cleartext data to the SSL socket; SSL in the sending host then encrypts the data and passes the encrypted data to the TCP socket. The encrypted data travels over the internet to the TCP socket in the receiving process. The receiving socket passes the encrypted data to SSL, which decrypts the data. Finally, SSL passes the cleartext data through its SSL socket to the receiving process. We’ll cover SSL in some detail in Module 8.

UDP Services

UDP is a no-frills, lightweight transport protocol, providing minimal services. UDP is connectionless, so there is no handshaking before the two processes start to communicate. UDP provides an unreliable data transfer service – that is, when a process sends a message into a UDP socket, UDP provides no guarantee that the message will ever reach the receiving process. Furthermore, messages that do not arrive at the receiving process may arrive out of order.

UDP does not include a congestion-control mechanism, so the sending side of UDP can pump data into the layer below (the network layer) at any rate it pleases. (Note, however, that the actual end-to-end throughput may be less than this rate due to the limited transmission capacity of intervening links of due to congestion).

Services Not Provided by Internet Transport Protocols

We have organized transport protocol services along four dimensions: reliable data transfer, throughput, timing, and security. Which of these services are provided by TCP and UDP? We have already noted that TCP provides the reliable end-to-end data transfer. And we also know that TCP can be easily enhanced at the application layer with SSL to provide security services. But in our brief description of TCP and UDP, conspicuously missing was any mention of throughput or timing guarantees – services not provided by today’s internet transport protocols. Does this mean that time-sensitive applications such as internet telephony cannot run in today’s internet? The answer is clearly no – the internet has been hosting time-sensitive applications for many years. These applications often work fairly well because they have been designed to cope, to the greatest extent possible, with this lack of guarantee. We’ll investigate several of these design tricks in Module 7. Nevertheless, clever design has its limitations when delay is excessive, or the end-to-end throughput is limited. In summary, today’s internet can often provide satisfactory service to time-sensitive applications, but it cannot provide any timing or throughput guarantees.

Figure 2.5 indicates the transport protocols used by some popular internet applications. We see that e-mail , remote terminal access, the web, and file transfer all use TCP. These applications have chosen TCP primarily because TCP provides reliable data transfer, guaranteeing that all data will eventually get to its destination. Because internet telephony applications
(such as Skype) can often tolerate some loss but require a minimal rate to be effective, developers of internet telephony applications usually prefer to run their applications over UDP, thereby circumventing TCP’s congestion control mechanism and packet overheads. But because many firewalls are configured to block (most types of ) UDP traffic, internet telephony applications are often designed to use TCP as a backup if UDP communication fails.