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What is TCP/IP and How Does it Work?

Apr 19, 2024 | computer design programs, News

Communication is a crucial part of any business or social organization. The same standard applies to today’s computers. These complex machines and applications use protocols to share error-free information through the largely automated TCP/IP network. Protocols are a standardized set of rules and expectations set for communications between all computers to transfer data between one another. This article will define how these layered TCP/IP protocols work.

What is TCP?

The Transmission Control Protocol is a communications standard that relies on an established connection between client and server before information, or data, is transmitted. A connection request from any potential client must be accepted before that connection is established.

TCP provides connectivity between hosts at the transport layer of the TCP/IP protocol layers. Many internet applications use TCP, including the World Wide Web, peer-to-peer file sharing, file transfer protocol, Secure Shell for remote login, as well as streaming media, among others.

What is IP?

The Internet Protocol is responsible for finding the IP address, which is the digital location of the device where the data is being transmitted. Any device on a particular network is identified by the series of numbers assigned to it known as an IP address.

What Does TCP/IP Do?

The main responsibility of TCP/IP is the transferring and receiving of data of a computer between two devices. It makes sure the data is reliable and error-free, ensuring that the data is the same and completely accurate when it is received by the other device. It is possible to separate TCP/IP, but the functions are used together so often that they make more sense coupled together.

What is tcp ip

What is TCP/IP and What does it do?

How does TCP/IP Work?

The TCP/IP model is the standard way data is accurately and correctly transmitted between two devices on the internet. It was developed by the United States Department of Defense. One of the key features of the TCP/IP protocol is that data is split into packets before being communicated. The packets are then reassembled once they reach their destination. This process helps avoid retransmission of the entire message if there is a problem. The error in question then simply sent again. Each packet can take a different route from the source of the original message and the destination, depending on if a particular route is congested or unavailable.

Communication tasks of the TCP/IP are divided into four layers to keep the practice normalized. This allows the process to take place without the hardware and software needing to manage the data themselves. The data passes through these four layers when sent by the host device. It is then put together in reverse order at the destination to bring it back to its original format.

The TCP establishes and maintains the device or application until the transaction of data is complete. It decides how the data packets are broken up, organizes them, sends them through to the corresponding destinations and puts them back together. TCP uses a 3-step process (or 3-step handshake) for transferring data. The first step establishes a connection between a device and the server. The second step establishes the connection from the server to the device, and the third step allows information to be communicated in both directions at the same time.

Layers of the TCP/IP Model

There are four defined layers of the TCP/IP model, and when they are all used together they are referred to as a suite of protocols. This describes the components of the data flow process between two computers or devices on the same network.

Application Layer

The application layer is responsible for maintaining a smooth connection for data exchange between the user and the application. This is often what the computer user sees and interacts with on the surface such as email and other messaging applications. It is the final stage of the TCP/IP model and allows information to be exchanged once the connection has been established by the other layers of the protocol. Its protocols include HTTP, FTP, Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3), SMTP, DNS, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and SNMP.

Transport Layer

The transport layer is the part of the TCP protocol responsible for setting up the basic data channels for task-specific communication. It implements host-to-host connectivity for reliable message transfer services. It provides:

  • Error control – Allowing data to be transferred without problems
  • Segmentation – The breaking up and organizing of data packets
  • Flow control – Maintains the speed in which data is sent
  • Congestion control – Seeks out and distributes data on the most efficient path to the destination
  • Application addressing (or port numbers) – This provides devices with a destination address for the data packets

The transport protocols include TCP as well as a separate set of protocols for special occasions called User Datagram Protocol, or UDP. Thanks to the transport layer, the data arrives in the correct order with minimal error. Duplicate data is discarded, and data packets that are lost or discarded are sent again to ensure accuracy when data is transmitted.

Internet Layer

The internet layer, also called the network layer, is part of the IP protocol. It controls where the data packets are sent in the connected network. It defines two addressing systems that identify the hosts of the network to ensure data is transmitted to the correct network locations. However, the internet layer does not recognize the different transport layer protocols, and as a result, it can carry data for a variety of different upper layer protocols.

Network Access Layer

The network access layer (also known as the datalink layer, the link layer, the network interface layer, or the physical layer) is defined by the physical parts of the computer or device that send and receive data. These include but are not limited to:

  • Ethernet cables
  • Wireless networks
  • Network interface cards
  • Device drivers in the computers


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The Difference: TCP vs. IP

In simple terms, TCP and IP are two sides of the same coin. They each provide their own important functions for the delivery of data for the TCP/IP protocol. The TCP does the work to allow data to be received between two connected computers. IP finds the destination, or location, of the communicating computers, allowing the data to be transmitted between the two correct devices or internet applications.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, TCP or IP?
When it comes to the TCP/IP protocol, it is not a matter of which protocol is considered better. The TCP and IP are separate sets of standardized rules that, while providing different functions, are dependent on one another to perform.

What does TCP mean?
TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol. It is a set of standards that lets computers and other devices communicate with each other after a network connection is established. The internet is an example of a type of network where computers and devices are allowed to transmit data back and forth when permission is granted.

What is my TCP/IP address?
Your TCP/IP address is the port number specifically assigned to identify your computer or other device when connected to a network, often used for the internet or an intranet. With this number, a connected computer can locate and communicate with your device, ensuring the correct incoming data is sent to your computer.

Are your data packets private over TCP/IP?
No. TCP/IP does not encrypt your data. When packets of data are sent between computers and other connected devices, they are vulnerable to being seen by intruders. This is why if you must send private data, personally identifiable information, or any other sensitive information it is recommended that you avoid public Wi-Fi networks. If switching between internet networks frequently it is recommended to protect yourself by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your data.

About Author:


Ross Aresco


Ross Aresco is the CFO of Erie Institute of Technology. Erie Institute of Technology (EIT) is an Erie Pennsylvania technical/trade school providing training programs for medical, computer, electronics, manufacturing, and technology careers. EIT offers programs in many different areas to suit your interests and talents.

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