tcpip_ch46 - The TCP/IP Guide A Comprehensive Illustrated...

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The TCP/IP Guide A Comprehensive, Illustrated Internet Protocols Reference Chapter 46 Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) Fundamentals and General Operation This chapter is excerpted from The TCP/IP Guide , by Charles M. Kozierok [ISBN: 1-59327-047-X]. Copyright (c) 2005, No Starch Press. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. To learn more about No Starch Press, please visit http://www.nostarch.com/index.htm . Charles M. Kozierok is the author and publisher of The PC Guide , an extensive online reference work on personal computers, as well as several other educational websites, including The TCP/IP Guide . He holds master’s degrees from MIT in management and in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and worked in various technical and managerial roles before dedicating himself full-time to writing and educational pursuits. He lives in rural Vermont with his wife and three sons.
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46 T R A N S M I S S I O N C O N T R O L P R O T O C O L ( T C P ) F U N D A M E N T A L S A N D G E N E R A L O P E R A T I O N Many people have a difficult time under- standing how the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) works. After spending dozens of hours writing almost 100 pages on the protocol, I am quite sympathetic! I think a main reason for the difficulty is that many descriptions of the protocol leap too quickly from a brief introduction straight into the mind-boggling details of TCP’s operation. The problem is that TCP works in a very particular way. Its operation is built around a few very important fundamentals that you absolutely must understand before the details of TCP operation will make much sense. In this chapter, I describe some of the key operating fundamentals of TCP. I begin with a discussion of how TCP handles data and introduce the concepts of streams, segments, and sequences. I then describe the very important TCP sliding window system, which is used for acknowledgment, reliability, and data flow control. I discuss how TCP uses ports and how it identifies connections. I also describe the most important applications that use TCP and what ports they use for server applications.
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728 Chapter 46 TCP Data Handling and Processing One of the givens in the operation of most of the protocols you’ll find at upper layers in the OSI Reference Model is that the protocols are oriented around the use of messages. These messages are analogous to a written letter in an envelope that contains a specific piece of information. They are passed from higher layers down to lower ones, where they are encapsulated in the lower layers’ headers (like putting them in another envelope), and then passed down further until they are actually sent out at the physical layer. You can see a good example of this by looking at the User Datagram Protocol (UDP), TCP’s transport layer peer. To use UDP, an application passes it a distinct block of data that is usually fairly short. The block is packaged into a UDP message, then sent to the Internet Protocol (IP). IP packs the message into an IP datagram and eventually passes it to a layer 2 protocol such as Ethernet. There, IP places it
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