Windows NT Networking for Dummies


With complete coverage of Version 4 of Microsoft's powerful Windows NT operating system, Windows NT Networking For Dummies offers the easiest, most practical guidance to setting up and administering your own Windows NT network. In Windows NT Networking For Dummies, authors and networking pros Ed Tittel, Mary Madden, and Earl Follis take the mystery out of Windows NT networking, showing you how to plan and set up a network from scratch, upgrade an existing network, and troubleshoot and administer a network so that...
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With complete coverage of Version 4 of Microsoft's powerful Windows NT operating system, Windows NT Networking For Dummies offers the easiest, most practical guidance to setting up and administering your own Windows NT network. In Windows NT Networking For Dummies, authors and networking pros Ed Tittel, Mary Madden, and Earl Follis take the mystery out of Windows NT networking, showing you how to plan and set up a network from scratch, upgrade an existing network, and troubleshoot and administer a network so that it runs smoothly. Here, you'll find accurate, ready-to-use tips on everything from configuring devices to remote network management. Plus, you'll find a handy, timesaving tip sheet listing the most important Windows NT utilities, what they do, and how to access them.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764500152
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Series: For Dummies Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 357
  • Product dimensions: 7.39 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Table of Contents


About This Book
How to Use This Book
Who Are You, Anyway?
How This Book Is Organized
Part I: Introducing Local Area Networks
Part II: The Wonder of Workgroups
Part III: Networking with Windows NT Server
Part IV: The Part of Tens
Icons Used in This Book
Where to Go from Here

Part I: Introducing Local Area Networks

Chapter 1: A Network Is Just Like Tin Cans and String -- Only Better!

What's a Network?
Making Networks Work
What Do Computers Say to Each Other?
What's Normal? Network Industry Trends
Touring the Facilities
First stop: Your desktop
Next stop: Servers do the servicing
Final stop: The glue that binds it all together
How Software Uses the Network
Asking for services isn't asking for favors
What services are available?
Sharing Resources Is the Greatest Good

Chapter 2: Making Connections, or Lost in the Wires

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave...
What's This Cable Here?
Twisted-pair cabling: TP or not TP
Watch that wire!
A spec for every spot
Coaxial cable
Fiber-optic cable
Home of the Brave: Tips for Do-It-Yourselfers
It's a Topology, Not a Wiring Layout
Now starring...
On or off the bus
Ring around the network
Brand X Basics
Introducing the Contestants
Entertaining Ethernet
Strengths and weaknesses
All flavors are available
Getting down to business
Let's talk token ring
Strengths and weaknesses
All flavors are available
Getting down to business
Arguing ARCnet
Strengths and weaknesses
All flavors are available
Getting down to business
Proprietary, like ARCnet used to be
Fabulous FDDI
Strengths and weaknesses
Getting down to business
What else is there?
The Polls Are In!

Chapter 3: Message in a Bottle: Mastering the Art of Protocols

How Do Computers Talk to Each Other?
DWIM -- Do what I mean!
Standardized rules
Why not, indeed?
According to Protocol
Suites for the...never mind!
A protocol's work is never done
The Dance of the Seven Layers

Chapter 4: Rounding Up the Usual Suspects

Warning: Entering the Acronym Zone!
You Can't Tell the Players without a Program
DLC: Golden oldie
IPX/SPX: The basic NetWare protocols
The government protocols: TCP/IP
Other faces in the gallery
AppleTalk: Making the Mac connection
Keep going -- there's more!
Mixing Protocols: Hybrids
What's What on Your Desktop?

Chapter 5: NICs and Knocks: Understanding Network Interface Cards

What's in Your NIC?
Catching the Bus: ISA, EISA, VLB, or Micro Channel
The local run: VLB and PCI
Micro Channel: A better idea?
Which bus gets you where you want to go?
Avoid Trouble: Get Off to a Good Start
Unplugged -- it's not just for MTV
Getting back to the beginning
Figure out what you're dealing with
Be on the lookout for trouble
Room to maneuver
The lay of your LAN
Beware the Golden Fingers
How to Read a Manual
NIC Configuration
NICcus interruptus
DIPsy doodles
Jumping jiminy!
Defaults, dear Brutus...
Any I/O port in a storm
Direct access: Setting the DMA
Running the bases: The MemBase setting
In the Driver's Seat
Cabling Up to the NIC
Looking for Trouble in All the Right Places

Chapter 6: This LAN Is Your LAN

Time to Make a Map
Formalizing Your Network Map
Start at the beginning
Put it on the map
Building a Network Inventory
Keeping Up with Developments
Getting Software to Work for You

Chapter 7: Living Off Your LAN

Paying Now or Praying Later
Contented users are quiet users
What can you do to make them leave you alone?
Keep the network running at all costs
Schedule downtime and spread the word
Keep an eye out for trouble
Educated users are better than ignoramuses
Keep an eye on growth
Get your report card regularly
Upgrades, Uprevs, and One-upmanship
Getting Help When You Need It
Building a Routine
Noticing the Obvious
Keeping It Clean
Beyond the Network

Part II: The Wonder of Workgroups

Chapter 8: Taking the "WORK" Out of NT Workstation

A Group-er Isn't Just a Big Fish
Blue velvet workgroups
Group-ers swim peer-to-peer
Isn't size what counts?
Who's in charge?
Serve It Up Hot and Fresh!
Hard and Soft: These Are the Wares
Get Ready to Rumble!
Distribute the net, distribute the problems
Serve you?

Chapter 9: Take the Stall Out of the Install

Min to the Max
Making Preinstallation Decisions
Stiffy or floppy?
Know your network
Gotchas and other flotsam
Prepare to Start at the Beginning
Phase one: Getting started
Phase two: GUI and sticky
Tidying up
Manage the Unmanageable with User Manager
Share and Share Alike
Connect the Dots: Clients Akimbo
Print All Night, Print a Little Longer
Roses Are Red, but What If You're Blue?
It's a Great Big Ol' World

Chapter 10: NT Stands for Network This!

Take Me Away, Protocol: Transports Make It Happen
NWLink: Your link to NetWare servers
TCP/IP: From Internet to intranet to everynet
NetBEUI: Blast from the past
AppleTalk: Do the Mac thing
DLC: Mainly for mainframes
Mix and match: Stir it up!
The Control Panel's Network Utility: Get a Grip!
Keep RASing Me: Dial-in and Dial-out
And Now for Something Similar

Chapter 11: NT for Life?

NT Workstation to the Rescue!
Peer, Peer, Pumpkin Eater
Movin' on Up
Living in a Diverse Network World
Make Up Your Mind

Part III: Networking with Windows NT Server

Chapter 12: A Road Map to Windows NT Server

What's the First Thing Adam and Eve Wanted to Do? Network!
The Network Speaks: NetBIOS, then NetBEUI, then IPX and IP
IPX and the packets that BURST!
The Internet protocol: TCP/IP
LAN Man's the Man!
NT Rises from the DEC Ashes
Taking NT to the nth degree
NT 3.5 is almost there
Look into the crystal ball: The future of NT
NT on Parade: A Retrospective

Chapter 13: SCSI-Wuzzy Wasn't Fuzzy, Was (S)he?

Plumbing the Hardware Interface
Configuring NT for SCSI Devices
SCSI Configuration Tools and Techniques
Other sources of information and inspiration
SCSI Devices Unveiled
SCSI is for hard disks, too
CD-ROM players
Tape drives
Avoiding Preinstallation Jitters
When Trouble Comes, Ask Questions First, Shoot Second
Doing the Update-Upgrade Shuffle: Dealing with Devices

Chapter 14: Connecting Your NT Network

Examining Client-Side Differences
Log ons
Log offs
Lower than a Snake's Belly: Bringing the Server Down
Lightning Can Be a Real Charge!
Look, Ma -- It Eats Out of My Hand!
Backups, Backups, and More Backups
Documentation, Documentation, Documentation
Did We Mention Backups, Backups, and More Backups?
Meet a Different UPS
Spare Parts

Chapter 15: Making NT Server Communicate

Understanding Network Dial-Out and Dial-In
The server side of RAS
The workstation side of RAS
What Does RAS-Aware Mean?
Making Good Connections: Handling RAS Hardware
Installing RAS with Class
Installing RAS on your NT 4.0 server
Installing RAS on your client PCs

Chapter 16: Communicating with NTS

Preinstallation Checklist
Installing DOS/Windows RAS Clients
Installing Windows for Workgroups RAS Clients
Phone Book Setup
Installing Windows NT Workstation RAS Clients
Installing Windows 95 RAS Clients
The RAS Protocols
Troubleshooting RAS
Administrator utility
Event Viewer
Internetworking with RAS

Chapter 17: The Properties of Protocols

IPX/SPX Spells Success
Stellar lineage
Pluses and minuses
TCP/IP: The Little Protocol That Could
DLC with Some TLC
Applying AppleTalk
What To Do?
Stacking Protocols: A Virtual Smorgasbord

Chapter 18: What's in a Name?

What's So Keen about Naming Services?
NetBIOS names
TCP/IP names
Understanding addresses
Unique addressing
Protocol addressing differences
Understanding WINS
The desired method: Automated updates
WINS servers
WINS clients
Doing the DHCP Thing
Serving Up and Replicating Domains
NT's Trust Relationship

Chapter 19: The File System: Center of the NT Universe

The NTFS View on Files, Directories, and More
Navigating the Server
Utilities, Applications, and More
How to Use the File System
Your Server versus Computer Viruses
No Rest for the Weary: Take Care of Business

Chapter 20: Network Security: It's Not a Game!

Keeping Watch: Setting Up the Right Controls
It Ain't Easy Being an NTS Supervisor
Visiting Hours
If You Want Help, Do This
Using Other Empowered Entities
The Easy Way Out: Tips for Setting Permissions
Stand Up for Your Directory, File, and Object Rights
Setting shares
Who may access what?
Individual file and directory permissions
Standard file and directory permissions
Permission to Assign Permissions
Examining and Changing Access Rights and Permissions
File and Directory Attributes

Chapter 21: Keeper of the Keys: Managing NTS Security

The Ins and Outs of Logging On and Off!
Passwords: How to Build 'Em, Use 'Em, and Keep 'Em Fresh
Security Begins at Home, but It Doesn't End There
And at Your Neighbor's, Too!
Now for Some Audit Checks
Say It Loud and Clear: Intruders Aren't Welcome Here
For Peace of Mind, Keep Servers under Lock and Key

Chapter 22: Hard Copies: Printing in the NT Environment

It's a Small (Printing) World after All
Born to serve: Print server to the masses
So many printers, so many print queues
Line up and sound off: Print queues
Network print users: The bane of your existence or misunderstood?
The Romaine Domain: Lettuce Define Printers
Local Yokels: Sharing Local Printers
Cut! It's a Wrap!

Chapter 23: Got Your Backup against the Wall?

Choices, We Hear Choices!
Why Back Up?
Out of Site, but Not Out of Mind
Backup Strategies of the Rich and Famous
Money Talks: On-line, Near-line, and Off-line Backups
On-line and on time
Near-line: Close, but not quite on-line
Off-line takes time
Hardware That's Hard to Wear
Changers and exchangers
CD-ROMs et al.
Client PC Backups: Can You Afford Not To?
Standard local directory backups
Full user local hard drive backups
Disaster Prep: Hope for the Best, but Plan for the Worst

Chapter 24: Mysteries of the Organism: NTS Configuration

An Overview of Installation Basics
To grow or not to grow?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it
NT Configuration Utilities
User Manager
Server Manager
Event Viewer
Performance Monitor
The NTS Registry Hierarchy
Where to learn more
Setting Up Groups and Users

Chapter 25: File, Information, and Management Utilities

The NET Word
Common Keyboard Gotchas You Need to Know
A Road Map to the NTS Utilities
Getting your bearings: File, directory, and disk utilities
Disk Administrator
Emergency Repair Disk
Windows NT Backup
Windows NT Explorer
Information, please
Event Viewer
License Manager
Performance Monitor
Windows NT Diagnostics
Administrative Wizards
DHCP Manager
Dr. Watson
Network Client Administrator
Network Monitor
Remote Boot
Server Manager
User Manager
WINS Manager
Beyond the NTS planet
RAS Admin

Chapter 26: Shooting Trouble

Common Troubleshooting for Uncommon Problems
Installation Can Be a Breeze or a Hurricane
Hardware Configuration Problems
Disk Controller Problems
CHKDSK and Check Dat
File System Errors
Poor System Performance
Printing and Not Printing Problems
Troubleshooting RAS Hardware Problems

Part IV: The Part of Tens

Chapter 27: Dealing with a Dead Network

Is Anybody Home?
Whoa! "Server Unavailable"
Suddenly, Slow Networking
Can't Get from Point A to Point B
Out of Disk Space
Beating the Blackout Blues
Networks Have Rules for Good Reasons
Correcting Intermittent Problems
Losing Your Log On
In General

Chapter 28: What You Should Know about Your Network

Where's the Wiring?
Where Are Your Connections?
How Long Is Each Cable?
Where's the Gear, and What Do You Have?
Know Your NICs
Your Nodes Know, but Do You?
Dealing with Vendors
Contact Logging
The Map's the Thing!
Stockpiling Spares...

Chapter 29: Ten Things You Must Know Before Anyone Can Help You

Assemble the Facts
Describe the Problem and its Symptoms
What's Showing?
What's New or Changed?
What Have You Tried?
What Happened?
Does the Problem Have a History?
Be Clear, Concise, and Polite
Send Information through Other Channels
Can You Do Anything Else?

Chapter 30: Keeping the Peerage Pleased with the Network

Users Must Be Responsible to Each Other
Define a Naming Scheme and Use It Hard!
Dedication Supports Heavy Sharing
Don't Be a File Hog
Common Rules Promote Common Courtesy
Dealing with Error Messages
Back Up Shared Resources!
Smart Users Use Secure Networks
Maintenance Is the Key to Network Salvation

Chapter 31: What You Should Know Before Making Changes to a Windows NT Server

Make Two Complete Backups?
Inspect and Survey the File System
Document the System
Map Network Addresses and Configurations
Master Your Network's Routing
Map Your Print Services
Check the Server Situation
Know Your User Community
Version and Service Pack Check

Chapter 32: The Paths to Print Perfection

You've Gotta Have Drivers
Make Printer Names Self-Documenting
Creating the Right Mix of Logical and Physical
Direct Printing
Separating User Communities
The Print Job Must Die!

Chapter 33: Backups Benefit Everybody

Buy Enough Capacity
Automatic Pilot Is the Only Way to Go
If You Miss It, You Lose It!
Store a Backup Off-site
Disaster Planning?
Practice, Practice, Practice!
What about Workstation Backups?
Rotating Media by the Book
Mixing Backup and Routine Maintenance
Choosing a Suitable Backup System

Chapter 34: Success Means Growing Pains Lie Ahead

Flaky Is as Flaky Does
When Delays Become Normal
More Users Than Logons
Chronic Disk Space Shortages
Regular Network Traffic Jams
Dirty Looks in the Hallway
Mystery Guests on Your Network?
Chronic Crashes Signal Imminent Danger
The Backup Won't Fit!
Burned in Effigy

Appendix A: Technical Assistance: When and How to Get It

Build a List and Check It Twice
Write This Down Before Making the Call
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk
Escalation -- Not Just for Department Stores
One-Stop Shopping: the TSA
Let Your Fingers Do the Walking
Training for the Pros

Appendix B: An Incredibly Concise Guide to On-line Information

Whither the Internet?
Information please
Remaining anonymous
USENET newsgroups
The best NT mailing list
Welcome to CompuServe
Forums for conversation and investigation
Obtaining a CompuServe membership
Accessing CompuServe
What Is the Microsoft Connection?
Reaping rewards from the Microsoft Connection
Surf the libraries

Appendix C: Vendor List


Book Registration Information

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First Chapter

Chapter 3
Message in a Bottle: Mastering the Art of Protocols

In This Chapter

  • Figuring out how protocols work
  • Learning the language that lets computers speak
  • Moving messages

Chapter 1 describes the three fundamental components of networking: connections, communications, and services. In this chapter, you leave the wires and interfaces behind and go inside the network to take a look at communications -- how senders and receivers field messages moving across the network.

Communications rely on a shared set of rules for exchanging information and for defining things at the most rudimentary levels, such as how to present digital data -- what's a one and what's a zero? The rules also determine the format and meaning of network addresses and other essential information.

In this chapter, we stick with the plumbing metaphor. You've already looked at the pipes; now it's time to look at what the pipes carry -- messages and data that computers send to each other. This should help you better understand how computers communicate on your network -- and why they occasionally don't.

How Do Computers Talk to Each Other?

Table 1-1 compared a computer conversation to a human conversation and showed that any communications between humans or machines have much in common. A trivial difference is that computers use ones and zeroes to communicate and humans use words. There are also some real differences, however. Understanding those will help you understand networking.

DWIM -- Do what I mean!

In human communication, what's being said is always interpreted and often misunderstood. What one person says is not always what the other person hears. Human communication, like the communication of computers over a network, relies on shared rules and meanings and a common frame of reference.

Computers, however, are linear. They can do only what they're told to do. For computers to exchange information, every piece of that information must be explicitly supplied; computers are not strong on picking up implications and subtlety. To communicate, computers have to begin in complete agreement about the following issues. (The questions are phrased from a computer's point of view.)

  • What's my address? How do I find it out? How do I find out other computers' addresses?
  • How do I signal another computer that I'm ready to send or receive a message? That I'm busy? That I can wait if it's busy?

These are the fundamentals, but they are only the tip of a large technological iceberg. Before computers can communicate with each other, everything must be completely mapped out and implemented in software that supplies all the answers to these questions in a way that all the computers know and understand. These answers form the basis of a set of rules for computer communications, rules the computers use to handle networking.

Standardized rules

Building a complete set of communications rules is time-consuming and picky and would bore most people out of their skulls. In the early days of the computer industry, individual companies or groups put a bunch of programmers to work building programs to do whatever they needed to have accomplished. As time went on, this process resulted in many different ways of doing such things as networking, none of which would work with the way talented programmers over at another company did the same things.

These incompatibilities were not a big deal (or so it seemed) in the beginning. As networks became a more common part of the business landscape, however, it seemed natural for people who bought computers from companies A and Z to wonder, "Well, gee, if my company A computers can talk to each other and my company Z computers can talk to each other, why can't the As talk to the Zs and vice versa?"

Why not, indeed?

Uncle Sam played an important role in bringing order to this potential network chaos. When the government tried to get their A and Z computers to talk to each other, they learned that they had a monster compatibility problem. A consensus emerged that a set of rules was absolutely necessary for networking. The industry also learned that networking was difficult, if not impossible, when everyone didn't share the same set of rules.

If this story had a happy ending, it would be: "Nowadays there's only one set of networking rules, and everyone uses the rules wisely and well." Unfortunately, there's no happy ending. Although the chaos has been reduced, there's still plenty to go around, and vendors trying to stay in the vanguard seem to be inventing more rules as they go.

According to Protocol

Just to keep things simple, these "sets of networking rules" are usually called networking protocols -- they're also referred to as networking standards, or even as standard networking protocols. You get the drift.

In diplomacy, protocol is the code of correct procedures and etiquette that representatives from sovereign governments follow to prevent all-out war. For example, protocol is the reason why diplomats refer to screaming matches as "frank and earnest discussions" or to insoluble disagreements as "exploratory dialogue." Political double-talk aside, the word protocol nicely captures the flavor of rules for network communications.

The concept of the networking protocol is based on the premise that any two computers must have an identical protocol in common to communicate; that is, the computers are peers in any communication. The particular protocol defines the language, structure, and rules for that communication.

Suites for the...never mind!

Although this book is about Windows NT Server and focuses its attention on the Microsoft protocols, you should be aware that these protocols are just one of a large number. Microsoft has become surprisingly catholic in its support for protocols, including support not only for government standards (TCP/IP) but also for the Novell IPX/SPX protocols. That may be because IPX/SPX was built to enable desktop computers, including PCs, to communicate and also because there are more PCs on the nation's desktops than any other kind of computer. And, too, the government's finger is in many pies, and the Internet uses the same protocols, so it is not surprising that NT Server supports today's most popular networking protocols.

Raising the standards

An interesting -- not to say confusing -- thing about networking rules is that both vendors and standards groups call their stuff a "standard." Some vendors expend a lot of hot air talking about the difference between de facto and de jure standards. De facto means "It ain't official, but a lot of people use it, so we can call it a standard if we want." De jure means "It's a standard because XYZ (a standards-setting group) has declared it to be so and has published this foot-high stack of documentation to prove it."

Behind the sometimes heated discussion of what is or is not a standard is a control issue. Purists -- including academicians, researchers, and techno-weenies -- flatly assert that only a standards-setting group can be "objective and fair," and, therefore, only they can adequately handle the job of selecting the very best that technology has to offer by putting it in their standard -- thus making this the best of all possible worlds (and everything in it a necessary evil).

The other heat source comes from vendors' desperate race to keep up with the market and customers' demands by heroically struggling to get their products off the drawing board and out the door. "Of course we have to be in control of our technology," they say. "It's the only way we can keep up!" The objectivity, fairness, and leading-edge characteristics of most standards are not disputed, but establishing standards involves groups of individuals who must agree on them, which takes time. In the meantime, technology continues to evolve, and nothing goes stale faster than leading-edge technology.

Whether networking technologies are standards or not, or de facto or de jure, doesn't matter: The action is where the markets are. Vendors must be involved on both sides of the debate to some extent because they cannot afford to miss any of the technology boats leaving port. Some astute vendors have published their "standards" and given customers and industry people sufficient documentation and input both to keep things working and to keep up with the development of the technology.

Some standards bodies have been wise enough to realize that a standard is a good thing only when it's widely implemented and have given vendors opportunities to deal with the real-world concerns of getting products to market. The winners in both camps are the protocols that are used the most.

One last remark on protocols: They rarely, if ever, occur in the singular. Most networking protocols consist of a named collection of specific message formats and rules for interaction rather than a single set of formats and rules. For that reason, protocols are also called protocol suites, not because they like to lounge around on matched collections of furniture, but because they travel in packs.

A protocol's work is never done

So now you know that your computer cannot talk to another computer without sharing a common protocol. Where does this protocol stuff come from? Put differently, who decides which protocols are used?

Protocols cover networking capability from software to hardware. The programs that let your computer access the network must use a protocol. This protocol holds all the way down to the edge of the hardware, where the computer says "send this message" to talk to the network or "give me the message," depending on what the hardware is telling it.

Protocols come a little from here and a little from there. For example, most protocols don't care which kind of network they're talking through; in most cases, they don't even notice if it's an ARCnet, Ethernet, or token-ring network. This is because part of the software that provides network capability comes from a LAN driver and part of it comes from other sources.

The LAN driver on a computer tells it exactly how to talk to the network interface in your machine. If you're lucky, you use a network machine, such as a network-ready PC or a Sun workstation. Otherwise, you have to locate and install a LAN driver on your computer so it can talk to the network.

Some applications may know how to communicate directly with a network through a special kind of software interface. Applications with this kind of savvy used to be scarce, but they're becoming more common as networks become more widespread. Other applications may use standard computer system access and end up talking through the network, totally unaware that the network is being accessed.

The key to network access from applications or from a computer's operating system is a collection of software that implements the protocol suite being used. The operating system, such as DOS or Windows 95 on a PC, is a program that keeps the computer running and capable of doing the jobs you ask it to perform.

If an application or operating system is network-savvy, the vendor may supply all or part of the network access software, including the LAN driver.

For Windows NT Server, for example, Microsoft supplies software for most of its desktop clients: Windows (in all its many flavors), UNIX, OS/2, and Macintosh can make use of their own networking software, whereas DOS uses networking software that Microsoft supplies along with NT Server (which can also be obtained from other sources). For a visual aid to these possible software relationships, look at Figure 3-1. You'll notice that software components, called shells or requesters, are needed to communicate over the network. The figure also shows that you'll need a LAN driver to provide the link between software and hardware.

The Dance of the Seven Layers

Okay, you now know that a protocol suite lets computers share a set of common communications rules. You also know that the protocols handle the movement of information between the hardware on the network interface computer and the applications you run on your machine. The next question is, what's going on between the applications and the hardware while the protocols do their thing?

Much of the interaction between applications and hardware consists of taking messages, breaking them down, and stuffing them into envelopes as you move farther from the application and closer to the hardware. From the other direction -- hardware to software -- the protocols unpack envelopes and stick individual pieces together to build a complete message. We hope that it is a meaningful message, but remember that the one immutable law of computers is GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out.

It might help to think of a post office analogy. The post office handles anything that has an address on it and sufficient postage to pay its way. How is a letter delivered? It goes something like this:

  1. You address a letter and drop it in a mailbox.
  2. The mail carrier who empties the mailbox gets the letter.
  3. The mail carrier delivers the letter to your local post office.
  4. The mail sorters check the zip code and route the letter.
  5. The letter is shipped to the post office that services the destination address.
  6. The mail sorters check the street address and route the letter to the appropriate mail carrier.
  7. The mail carrier delivers the letter to the address, and the recipient gets the letter.

The basic requirements for successful mail delivery are timely pickup, short transit time, and correct delivery. Factors that affect transit time and delivery (barring disgruntled postal workers with firearms) are correct identification of and routing to the mailing address.

The similarity between networking protocols and the postal service lies in the capability to recognize addresses, route messages from senders to receivers, and provide delivery. The major difference is that the postal service, unlike networking protocols, doesn't normally care what's in the envelopes or packages you send as long as they meet size, weight, and materials restrictions. Networking protocols spend most of their time dealing with envelopes of varying sizes and kinds.

For instance, suppose that you want to copy a file from your computer to another computer across the network. The file is sizable, about 1MB. It consists of a spreadsheet covering your sales forecast for the next quarter, so you want it to get there quickly and correctly.

To use the post office (or snail mail), you would copy the file to a floppy and mail it to the recipient, but that's not fast enough. Over the network, it will get there in less than a minute. While the file is moving from your machine to the other machine, there's a lot going on that you aren't privy to.

Size considerations -- the biggest chunk of data you're allowed to move across the network -- are only one reason why messages are put into envelopes. Handling addresses is another reason. In the post office example, the pickup post office cares only about the destination zip code, whereas the delivering mail carrier is concerned with the street address. Along the same lines, one protocol might care about only the name of the computer to which the file is to be shipped; at a lower level, however, the protocol needs to know where to direct the chunks of data moving from sender to receiver as well so that the file can be correctly reassembled upon delivery.

The protocol software spends most of its time taking things apart to deliver them accurately. When you're receiving something, it spends its time stripping off packaging information and putting things back together. The sender and receiver keep talking to each other while all this is going on to monitor the accuracy and effectiveness of their communications and to determine if and when delivery is complete. Protocols also spend a lot of time keeping track of the quality and usability of network links.

We hope this chapter has helped to clear up some of the mysteries that surround protocols. The important thing to remember, though, is that protocols simply allow computers to communicate.

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