An Easy Explanation of TCP/IP and it’s Basic Parameters

IP Explained by Ian Billen

TCP/IP is the most common software related language and set of rules digital devices use to network and exchanges services or information. I am going to give you an understanding of what TCP/IP is, what it does, where you’ll find it, and why we use it all in around just five minutes time!

TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. It is the most common software language and set of rules computers various devices use on a network to communicate with each other. This digital guideline and language is what digital devices most commonly use in order to identify nodes/networks, facilitate information exchange, govern access, and exchange services on a network of some sort.

TCP/IP is both a LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network) protocol. Technically, TCPIP is a combination of a few protocols (a suite) at work. A protocol by definition is a set of rules or a set of guidelines. A WAN is a network that spans a large distance. The internet is the biggest WAN in existence. TCP/IP is a very scalable (able to grow and support new or different services and devices), robust (reliable) protocol. This is mainly why TCP/IP was elected a long time ago (1983) to be the default protocol used over The Internet. In order for two devices to effectively exist and communicate on a network they must either:

A. Both use the same protocol

or

B. Using an intermediary program as an interface to act as an interpreter between the two different protocols.

In this situation example, Example A. is the most ideal and common when speaking of computers, mobile phones and tablets sexisting and effectively communicating on the Internet. If one is speaking “English” and another person is speaking “German” the two people would not be able to understand each other? Digital devices that wish to communicate or connect with one another are in a sense the same way. The language and set of rules that computers and digital devices use to speak and identify each-other on the internet is TCP/IP.

Are there different versions or variations of this protocol?

Yes!

There is both version 4 and version 6 in use today. Right now the majority of connections use the version known as TCP/IP v4. The v4 stands for “version 4”. We are starting to slowly migrate to TCP/IP version 6. In the not too distant future, we will inevitably all need to be able to use version 6. Version 4 the first widely deployed version. Previous versions (such as 0, 1, 2, and 3) were experimental and not deployed on a large scale. Version 4 is the first widely distributed version of TCP/IP.

As of 2019, just over two-thirds of the Internet is using version 4. Due to the limited number of unique IP addresses (as well as some other drawbacks to this version) version 6 is slowly, but surely being incorporated into operating systems and networking applications. In time, version 6 will be the default Internet version. TCP/IP version five served as an experimental protocol that focused on streaming video and Voice.  IP version 5 formed the bases for VOIP (voice over IP) but as is with version four version five had 32-bit limitations (limited number of individual IP addresses) and hence it was never standardized.

You see, IP addresses 32-bit must be unique that exist on the Internet. No two devices that plan to exist online can have the same IP address. TCP / IP version 4 mathematically has 4.3 billion possible unique addresses (as did version 5). That is a lot but realistically, and inevitably that limit will (or would have) been reached.

IPv6 has the possibility of 340 trillion unique possible addresses. This should be plenty of address space for a long time to come. This is one of (or perhaps the foremost) the major reasons a migration to version 6 is slowly occurring.

Where is TCP/IP located? Is it a physical thing or is it a program of some sort?

While TCP/ IP is certainly not any sort of hardware it is not a software program, per se but more a software ‘component’ built into the networking aspect of an operating system or networking application. TCP/IP is already installed within your Windows, Macintosh, Chrome (OS), Android and Linux operating system. This software is there, built in and ready to go your devices operating system when it boots for the very first time. You see, application developers have already developed these operating systems integrating the TCP/IP suite to them right out of the box.

Can you uninstall TCP/IP?

Yes, in most operating systems you can. However situations in why you would do such is beyond the scope of this article and you, as the general computer user would almost never (I know, “never say never”. OK 99.999 % of the time the common computer user would never need to do such).

What is an IP Address?

When using the TCP/IP protocol a device, and or website needs an identifier. This identifier is an “IP Address”. It is actually 32 ones and zero’s (based on TCP / IP version 4). However using simple decimal shorthand you can break this down to normal “decimal” numbers which is what we generally see. Hence an IP address is four separate decimal numbers separated by an period. IP Addresses look like this: 192.168.12.9.

This number identifies your device. This way other computers know where to find you and/or who to respond to on the internet when you request any service or want to browse around online. In order for computers on the internet not to get confused, no two machines, or websites can have the same IP address. They all must be “unique” to the machine or website.

A TCP / IP version 4 address consists of four octets of all numbers and looks like this: 176.110.27.2

A TCP / IP version 6 address has eight octets with a combination of numbers and letters (A through E). It looks very different and is separated by colons (not periods): 1074:cb4:11:1:2b4e:6352:0:4bb1

The three TCP/IP common parameters you should be aware of (involving IP version 4 .. since as of the time of this article it is easily still the version most in use):

In order to use TCP/IP on the internet you need three common parameters set. They look like this:

  • IP version 4 Address: 192.168.12.9
  • Default Gateway Address: 112.33.75.30
  • Subnet Mask: 255.255.255.4

These parameters or TCP/IP settings can be accessed or viewed in your operating system. Every operating system will have at least one place where you can see and if needed change these IP settings. NOTE: If you are a new user and are not having any connectivity issues I would leave these settings as is for now. 

What is a Default Gateway Address?

A “default gateway” IP address is needed as well. this is the IP address of the machine you use to get onto the internet through. It is a doorway so to speak. Every internet based machine goes out to the internet through a “default gateway”. This is normally a server or a router.

A default gateway machine also has an IP address. It is known as the “gateway address” or gateway IP.

Your computer as an internet machine also needs this IP configured.

What is the Subnet Mask?

A subnet mask , to put it as simple as possible is a indicator address that does two things.

1. identifies your internet service provider network and this networks size. 2. Helps machines narrow in on your exact location when sending information to you but this is out of the scope of this article. For now just understand it’s basis and understand you need one in order to access and exist on the internet.

So now you know what an IP address, a gateway address, and what a subnet mask address is. These are the internet settings (aka IP Parameters) every machine needs to access the internet.

So how and where do you get them? Well you can manually configure your own every time you log in or start your computer. You should contact your internet service provider to ask what your assigned IP, default gateway address, and subnet mask should be. However this would be a pain in the neck wouldn’t it?

This is where DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) comes in. We will discuss this in the near future.

Ian Billen

Ian Billen
Copyright © 2019, ianbillen.com

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