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Relationship between Network Services and Protocols

Services and Protocols are distinctly different. A service is a set of capabilities or operations that a particular layer provides to the entities of its higher layer.

On the other hand, a protocol refers to a set of rules and conventions governing the format and interpretation of different components of a frames, packets or messages by peer entities within a layer.

Entities use protocols in order to implement their service definitions.

Network Reference Models

  1. OSI Reference Model
  2. TCP/IP Reference Model

The OSI Reference Model

The OSI model is based on a proposal developed by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as a first step towards international standardization of the protocols used in the various layers. It is called the ISO Open Systems Interconnection Reference Model as it deals with connecting open systems – that is, systems that are open for communication with other systems.

It may be noted that the OSI model itself is not a network architecture because it does not specify the exact services and protocols to be used in each layer. It just tells what each layer should do.

The OSI model has seven layers. The principles that were applied to arrive at the seven layers are as follows:

  1. A layer should be created where a different level of abstraction is needed.

  2. Each layer should perform a well defined function.

  3. The function of each layer should be chosen with an eye toward defining internationally standardized protocols.

  4. The layer boundaries should be chosen to minimize the information flow across the interfaces.

  5. The number of layers should be large enough that distinct functions need not be thrown together in the same layer out of necessity, and small enough that the architecture does not become unwieldy.

Illustration Diagram

The Physical Layer

The physical layer is concerned with transmitting raw bits over a communication channel. The design issues have to do with making sure that when one side sends a 1 bit, it is received by the other side as a 1 bit, not as a 0 bit. Typical questions here are …

  • how many volts should be used to represent a 1 and how many for a 0
  • how many microseconds a bit lasts
  • whether transmission may proceed simultaneously in both directions
  • how the initial connection is established and how it is broken down when both sides are finished
  • how many pins the network connector has and what each pin is used for

The design issue here largely deal with mechanical, electrical, and procedural interfaces, and the physical transmission medium, which lies below the physical layer.

Examples of physical layer protocols – Rs-232C, Rs-449 and CCITT-X.21.

The Data Link Layer

The main task of the data link layer is to take a raw transmission facility and transform it into a line that appears free of undetected transmission errors to the network layer. It accomplishes this task by having the sender break input data up into data frames (typically a few hundred or a few thousand bytes), transmit the frames sequentially, and process the acknowledgement frames sent back by the receiver.

Since the physical layer merely accepts and transmits a stream of bits without any regard to meaning or structure, it is up to the data link layer to create and recognize frame boundaries. This can be accomplished by attaching special bit patterns to the beginning and end of the frame. If these bit patterns can accidentally occur in the data, special care must be taken to make sure these patterns are not incorrectly interpreted as frame delimiters.

An example frame format – the High Level Data Link Control (HDLC)Protocol:-

A noise burst on the line can destroy a frame completely. In this case, the data link layer software on the source machine can re-transmit the frame. However, multiple transmissions of the same frame introduce the possibility of duplicate frames. A duplicate frame could be sent if the acknowledgement frame from the receiver back to the sender were lost. It is up to this layer to solve the problems caused by damaged, lost, and duplicate frames.

Another issue that arises in the data link layer is how to keep a fast transmitter from drowning a slow receiver in data. Some traffic regulation mechanism must be employed to let the transmitter know how much buffer space the receiver has at the moment. Frequently, this flow regulation and the error handling are integrated.

Data Link protocols typically include some means of error detection based on some simple check-sum included at the end of the frame. It also provides access methods such as CSMA/CD, Token Ring, etc. for LANs.

Examples of this type of protocol includes HDLC (from ISO), SDLC (from IBM), ADCCP (from ANSI).

The Network Layer

The network layer is concerned with controlling the operation of the subnet.

A key design issue is determining how packets are routed from source to destination. Routes can be based on static tables that are "wired into" the network and rarely change.

If too many packets are present in the subnet at the same time, they will get in each other's way, forming bottlenecks. The control of such congestion also belongs to the network layer.

Since the operators of the subnet may well expect remuneration for their efforts, there is often some accounting function built into the network layer. At the very least, the software must count how many packets or characters or bits are sent by each customer, to produce billing information. When a packet crosses a national border, with different rates on each side, the accounting can become complicated.

When, a packet has to travel from one network to another to get to its destination, many problems can arise. The addressing used by the second network may be different from the first one. The second one may not accept the packet at all because it is too large. The protocols may differ, and so on. It is up to the network layer to overcome all these problems to allow heterogeneous networks to be interconnected.

In broadcast networks, the routing problem is simple, so the network layer is often thin or even non existent.

Examples are :- CCITT’s X.25, DARPA’s Internet Protocol (IP), Xerox’s Internet Datagram Protocol.

The Transport Layer

The basic function of the transport layer is to accept data from the session layer, split it up into smaller units if need be, pass these to the network layer, and ensure that the pieces all arrive correctly at the other end. Furthermore, all this must be done efficiently, and in a way that isolates the upper layers from the inevitable changes in the hardware technology.

Under normal conditions, the transport layer creates a distinct network connection for each transport connection required by the session layer. If the transport connection requires a high throughput, however, the transport layer might create multiple network connections, dividing the data among the network connections to improve throughput. On the other hand, if creating or maintaining a network connection is expensive, the transport layer might multiplex several transport connections onto the same network connection to reduce the cost. In all cases, the transport layer is required to make the multiplexing transparent to the session layer.

The transport layer also determines what type of service to provide the session layer, and ultimately, the users of the network. The most popular type of transport connection is an error-free point-to-point channel that delivers messages or bytes in the order in which they were sent. However, other possible kinds of transport service are transport of isolated messages with no guarantee about the order of delivery, and broadcasting of messages to multiple destinations. The type of service is determined when the connection is established.

The transport layer is a true end-to-end layer, from source to destination. In other words, a program on the source machine carries on a conversation with a similar program on the destination machine, using the message headers and control messages. In the lower layers, the protocols are between each machine and its immediate neighbors, and not by the ultimate source and destination machines, which may be separated by many routers. This difference between layers 1 through 3, which are chained, and layers 4 through 7, which are end-to-end, is to be noted.

Many hosts are multi-programmed, which implies that multiple connections will be entering and leaving each host. There needs to be some way to tell which message belongs to which connection. The transport header is one place this information can be put.

In addition to multiplexing several message streams onto one channel, the transport layer must take care of establishing and deleting connections across the network. This requires some kind of naming mechanism, so that a process on one machine has a way of describing with whom it wishes to converse. There must also be a mechanism to regulate the flow of information, so that a fast host cannot overrun a slow one. Such a mechanism is called flow control and plays a key role in the transport layer (also in other layers).

Examples of well-defined transport layer protocols are :- Xerox’s Internet Transfer Protocols, DARPA’s Transport Control Protocol and NBS Transport Protocol.

The Session Layer

The session layer allows users on different machines to establish sessions between them. A session allows ordinary data transport, as does the transport layer, but it also provides enhanced services useful in some applications. A session might be used to allow a user to log into a remote time sharing system or to transfer a file between two machines.

One of the services of the session layer is to manage dialogue control. Sessions can allow traffic to go in both directions at the same time, or in only one direction at a time. If traffic can only go one way at a time (analogous to a single rail-road track), the session layer’s job is to keep track of whose turn it is.

A related session service is token management. For some protocols, it is essential that both sides do not attempt the same operation at the same time. To manage these activities, the session layer provides tokens that can be exchanged. Only the side holding the token may perform the critical operation. The session layer takes care of all the 3 Dialogue modes – Simplex, Half Duplex and Full Duplex.

Another session service is synchronization/ Recovery. Consider the problems that might occur when trying to do a 2-hour file transfer between two machines with a 1-hour mean time between crashes. After each transfer was aborted, the whole transfer would have to start over again and would probably fail again the next time as well. To eliminate this problem, the session layer provides a way to insert check points into the data stream, so that after a crash, only the data transferred after the last check point have to be repeated.

Common session layer protocols are DARPA’s File Transfer Protocols and OSI’s Session Layer Protocols.

The Presentation Layer

The presentation layer performs certain functions that are requested sufficiently often to warrant finding a general solution for them, rather than letting each user solve the problems. In particular, unlike all the lower layers, which are just interested in moving bits reliably from here to there, the presentation layer is concerned with the syntax and semantics of the information transmitted.

A typical example of a presentation service is encoding data in a standard agreed upon way. Most user programs do not exchange random binary bit strings. They exchange things such as people's names, dates, amounts of money, and invoices. These items are represented as character strings, integers, floating-point numbers, and data structures composed of several simpler items. Different computers have different codes for representing character strings (e.g., ASCII and Unicode), integers (e.g., Little Endian and Big Endian), and so on. In order to make it possible for computers with different representations to communicate, the data structures to be exchanged can be defined in an abstract way, along with a standard encoding to be used. The presentation layer manages these abstract data structures and converts from the representation used inside the computer to the network standard representation and back.

Examples of protocols for this layer are Xerox’s Carrier Protocol and DARPA’s TELNET.

The Application Layer

The application layer contains a variety of protocols that are commonly needed. For example, there are hundreds of incompatible terminal types in the world. Consider the plight of a full screen editor that is supposed to work over a network with many different terminal types, each with different screen layouts, escape sequences for inserting and deleting text, moving the cursor, etc.

One way to solve this problem is to define an abstract network virtual terminal that editors and other programs can be written to deal with. To handle each terminal type, a piece of software must be written to map the functions of the network virtual terminal onto the real terminal. For example, when the editor moves the virtual terminal's cursor to the upper left-hand corner of the screen, this software must issue the proper command sequence to the real terminal to get its cursor there too. All the virtual terminal software is in the application layer.

Another application layer function is file transfer. Different file systems have different file naming conventions, different ways of representing text lines, and so on. Transferring a file between two different systems requires handling these and other incompatibilities. This work, too, belongs to the application layer, as do electronic mail, remote job entry, directory lookup, and various other general-purpose and special-purpose facilities.

Examples of application layer protocols are Xerox’s Clearinghouse Protocol and the ANSI X3VI Electronic Mail Messaging Protocols.

Data Transmission in the OSI Model

The figure shows an example of how data can be transmitted using the OSI model. The sending process has some data it wants to send to the receiving process. It gives the data to the application layer, which then attaches the application header, AH (which may be null), to the front of it and gives the resulting item to the presentation layer.

The presentation layer may transform this item in various ways and possibly add a header to the front, giving the result to the session layer. It is important to realize that the presentation layer is not aware of which portion of the data given to it by the application layer is AH, if any, and which is true user data.

This process is repeated until the data reach the physical layer, where they are actually transmitted to the receiving machine. On that machine the various headers are stripped off one by one as the message propagates up the layers until it finally arrives at the receiving process.

The key idea throughout is that although the actual data transmission is vertical, each layer is programmed as if it were horizontal. When the sending transport layer, for example, gets a message from the session layer, it attaches a transport header and sends it to the receiving transport layer. From its point of view, the fact that it must actually hand the message to the network layer on its own machine is an unimportant technicality. As an analogy, when a German speaking diplomat is addressing the United Nations, he thinks of himself as addressing the other assembled diplomats. That, in fact, he is really only speaking to his translator is seen as a technical detail.

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About the Author
Rajeev Kumar
CEO, Computer Solutions
Jamshedpur, India

Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of premier engineering colleges & management institutes, and IT professionals.

Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & Web Services Worldwide. He has hands-on experience of building variety of websites and business applications, that include - SaaS based erp & e-commerce systems, and cloud deployed operations management software for health-care, manufacturing and other industries.

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