TCP/IP Ports: Transport Layer (TCP/UDP) Addressing
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A typical host on a TCP/IP internetwork has many different software application processes running concurrently. Each generates data that it sends to either TCP or UDP, which in turn passes it to IP for transmission. This multiplexed stream of datagrams is sent out by the IP layer to various destinations. Simultaneously, each device's IP layer is receiving datagrams that originated in numerous application processes on other hosts. These need to be demultiplexed, so they end up at the correct process on the device that receives them.
The question is: how do we demultiplex a sequence of IP datagrams that need to go to many different application processes? Let's consider a particular host with a single network interface bearing the IP address 126.96.36.199. Normally, every datagram received by the IP layer will have this value in the IP Destination Address field. Consecutive datagrams received by IP may contains a piece of a file you are downloading with your Web browser, an e-mail sent to you by your brother, and a line of text a buddy wrote in an IRC chat channel. How does the IP layer know which datagrams go where, if they all have the same IP address?
The first part of the answer lies in the Protocol field included in the header of each IP datagram. This field carries a code that identifies the protocol that sent the data in the datagram to IP. Since most end-user applications use TCP or UDP at the transport layer, the Protocol field in a received datagram tells IP to pass data to either TCP or UDP as appropriate.
Of course, this just defers the problem to the transport layer: both TCP and UDP are used by many applications at once. This means TCP or UDP must figure out which process to send the data to. To make this possible, an additional addressing element is necessary. This address allows a more specific locationa software processto be identified within a particular IP address. In TCP/IP, this transport layer address is called a port.
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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005
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