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1.2. What to Know About TCP/IP

To understand the substance of this book, you need a modest knowledge of what TCP/IP is and what it does. You'll find more than enough information in Craig Hunt and Robert Bruce Thompson's books on TCP/IP,[5] but what follows is, we think, what is necessary to know for our book's purposes.

[5]Windows NT TCP/IP Network Administration, by Craig Hunt and Robert Bruce Thompson (O'Reilly & Associates), and TCP/IP Network Administration, Second Edition, by Craig Hunt (O'Reilly & Associates).

TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is a set of protocols enabling computers to talk to each other over networks. The two protocols that give the suite its name are among the most important, but there are many others, and we shall meet some of them later. These protocols are embodied in programs on your computer written by someone or other; it doesn't much matter who. TCP/IP seems unusual among computer standards in that the programs that implement it actually work, and their authors have not tried too much to improve on the original conceptions.

TCP/IP only applies where there is a network. Each computer on a network that wants to use TCP/IP has an IP address , for example,

There are four parts in the address, separated by periods. Each part corresponds to a byte, so the whole address is four bytes long. You will, in consequence, seldom see any of the parts outside the range -255.

Although not required by protocol, by convention there is a dividing line somewhere inside this number: to the left is the network number and to the right, the host number. Two machines on the same physical network -- usually a local area network (LAN) -- normally have the same network number and communicate directly using TCP/IP.

How do we know where the dividing line is between network number and host number? The default dividing line is determined by the first of the four numbers: if the value of the first number is:

The remaining values of the first number, 224-255, are not relevant here. Network numbers -- the left-hand part -- that are all 0s[6] or all 1s[7] in binary are reserved and therefore not relevant to us either. These addresses are as follows:

[6]An all-0 network address means "this network." This is defined in STD 5 (RFC 791).

[7]An all-1 network address means "broadcast." This is also defined in STD 5 (RFC 922). In practice, broadcast network addresses are not very useful, and, indeed, some of these "reserved" addresses have already been used for other purposes; for example, means "this machine," by convention.

  • 0.x.x.x

  • 127.x.x.x

  • 128.0.x.x

  • 191.255.x.x

  • 192.0.0.x

  • 223.255.255.x

It is often possible to bypass the rules of Class A, B, and C networks using subnet masks . These allow us to further subdivide the network by using more of the bits for the network number and less for the host number. Their correct use is rather technical, so we leave it to the experts.

You do not need to know this information in order to run a host, because the numbers you deal with are assigned to you by your network administrator or are just facts of the Internet. But we feel you should have some understanding in order to avoid silly conversations with people who do know about TCP/IP. It is also relevant to virtual hosting because each virtual host (see Chapter 3, "Toward a Real Web Site") must have its own IP address (at least until HTTP/1.1 is in wide use).

Now we can think about how two machines with IP addresses X and Y talk to each other. If X and Y are on the same network, and are correctly configured so that they have the same network number and different host numbers, they should be able to fire up TCP/IP and send packets to each other down their local, physical network without any further ado.

If the network numbers are not the same, TCP/IP sends the packets to a router , a special machine able, by processes that do not concern us here, to find out where the other machine is and deliver the packets to it. This communication may be over the Internet or might occur on your wide area network (WAN).

There are two ways computers use TCP/IP to communicate:

UDP (User Datagram Protocol)

A way to send a single packet from one machine to another. It does not guarantee delivery, and there is no acknowledgment of receipt. It is nasty for our purposes, and we don't use it.

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol)

A way to establish communications between two computers. It reliably delivers messages of any size. This is a better protocol for our purposes.

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