Chapter 5: End-to-End Protocols

Victory is the beautiful, bright coloured flower. Transport is the stem without which it could never have blossomed. —Winston Churchill

Problem: Getting Processes to Communicate

Many technologies that can be used to connect together a collection of computers, ranging from simple Ethernets and wireless networks to global-scale internetworks. Once interconnect, the next problem is to turn this host-to-host packet delivery service into a process-to-process communication channel. This is the role played by the transport level of the network architecture, which, because it supports communication between application programs running in end nodes, is sometimes called the end-to-end protocol.

Two forces shape the end-to-end protocol. From above, the application-level processes that use its services have certain requirements. The following list itemizes some of the common properties that a transport protocol can be expected to provide:

  • Guarantees message delivery

  • Delivers messages in the same order they are sent

  • Delivers at most one copy of each message

  • Supports arbitrarily large messages

  • Supports synchronization between the sender and the receiver

  • Allows the receiver to apply flow control to the sender

  • Supports multiple application processes on each host

Note that this list does not include all the functionality that application processes might want from the network. For example, it does not include security features like authentication or encryption, which are typically provided by protocols that sit above the transport level.

From below, the underlying network upon which the transport protocol operates has certain limitations in the level of service it can provide. Some of the more typical limitations of the network are that it may

  • Drop messages

  • Reorder messages

  • Deliver duplicate copies of a given message

  • Limit messages to some finite size

  • Deliver messages after an arbitrarily long delay

Such a network is said to provide a best-effort level of service, as exemplified by the Internet.

The challenge, therefore, is to develop algorithms that turn the less-than-perfect properties of the underlying network into the high level of service required by application programs. Different transport protocols employ different combinations of these algorithms. This chapter looks at these algorithms in the context of four representative services—a simple asynchronous demultiplexing service, a reliable byte-stream service, a request/reply service, and a service for real-time applications.

In the case of the demultiplexing and byte-stream services, we use the Internet's User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), respectively, to illustrate how these services are provided in practice. In the case of a request/reply service, we discuss the role it plays in a Remote Procedure Call (RPC) service and what features that entails. The Internet does not have a single RPC protocol, so we cap this discussion off with a description of two widely used RPC protocols: SunRPC and DCE-RPC.

Finally, real-time applications make particular demands on the transport protocol, such as the need to carry timing information that allows audio or video samples to be played back at the appropriate point in time. We look at the requirements placed by applications on such a protocol and the most widely used example, the Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP).

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