TCP/IP (the internet’s glue)

By the seamless flow of information, someone may be lead to believe that the Internet is one uniform system. But taking a closer look will reveal a structure that is quite varying in design. Providing uniformity within this diverging environment is a protocol suite, known as TCP/IP.

The birth of the information age:

In the 1960s, the computer was already on the verge of becoming the device of the century. And predictions were lofty: Images of a computerized world were not only in the hearts and minds of engineers, they were also showing up in the arts. But most outlooks had the binary contraption restricted to an isolated tool used solely for running complex algorithms. A few scientists saw a broader vision and wanted to transform the computer into a communicating machine; though, accomplishing this task would require a reimaging of the information infrastructure.

At the time, the dominant [two-way] communication’s system was no other than the good old telephone. It relied on a crude model, called Circuit Switching, where all of a link’s bandwidth remained locked within in single connection. For computers, this inflexible design was seen as inefficient when transmitting data; and so, it was decided that a more elastic approach was needed.

In 1965, a Welsh computer scientist — Donal Davies — developed a new concept, called Packet Switching, which catered more towards data transmission. In this approach, data was broken down into smaller segments and then transported individually in containers. Packet Switching led to the creation of the first global network, known as ARPANET; and, currently, it is a fundamental mechanism within information technology. But, yet to break ground, still, was the unification of networks.

The universal protocol:

Rarely is an environment harmonious at the beginning of a technological breakthrough: it is usually rifled with incompatible hardware, in competition. So was the case of networks when electrical engineer Robert E. Kahn joined DARPA [once known as ARPA] in 1972. While working on a satellite networking project, Kahn realized the value for communicating across diverse networks. And so working along side another ARPANET developer, Vinton Cerf, the two began designing a new protocol for uniting all forms of networks. This protocol they called TCP.

When creating uniformity within a varied system, it is important to mask the differences found within the hardware. For TCP, the act of concealment was accomplished through the end-to-end principle, where the responsibility of the network was diminished and the majority of the burden was placed on the two end-hosts. Onto present day, the end-to-end principle still resides in networking.

So TCP had finally joined networks together into one homogenous system. And now, there only remained one thing left to do: Make the protocol more efficient. It was decided to split TCP into two parts: The Transmission Control Protocol handled the preparation of the data for transport, and the Internet Protocol helmed the responsibility of addressing. The suite was also given a new name, TCP/IP.  In 1982, TCP/IP was introduced to ARPANET; currently, it is the standard networking protocol for Ethernet, Fiber-optics, and Wifi.

So what would the digital landscape look like without a protocol suite, like TCP/IP? Well, it is simple, the term would be digital landscapes, instead! An infrastructure, like the Internet, would be segregated: where users from one platform (for example, Wifi) would be unable to connect to a different platform (such as Ethernet). It does not take a technical mind to grasped how limiting this setup would be. So, in the end, TCP/IP can be viewed as the glue that keeps the digital realms united.