What is a Protocol?

You may have no doubt seen this word plastered almost everywhere when it comes to IT and Networking.

Protocols, what are they?

Let’s start by looking at the dictionary definition of the word:

“The official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions”

This essentially means a set of rules governing something. Let us make this a bit more practical to us.

Scenario:

Imagine 2 people speaking to each other.

The first, who we will call Ahmed is telling the second, who we will name as Adam about his trip to Paris.

Ahmed would find it rude and probably not talk to Adam if Adam turned his back to him right? Wouldn’t you?

So for this conversation to happen, it’s a given that both parties must be facing each other.

Now if Ahmed got a phone call in the middle of this conversation, picked up and starting taking, completely ignoring Adam, then Adam would find this perhaps rude and would stop the interaction right there.

Our two friends would also have to be speaking the same language for this conversation to be understood.

Finally, for this to be a successful conversation, both Adam and Ahmed would have to give each other time to speak – there couldn’t be a conversation if they were both talking at the same time!

So for this conversation to happen normally, we have established that:

  • Both people must be facing each other
  • Both people must give their full attention to the other
  • They should both be speaking the same language
  • Neither Ahmed nor Adam should interrupt the other while speaking

And there you go. We have just established our very own speech protocol!

Different types of Protocols

Now you may ask, why are there so many different types of Protocol, and why can’t we have one, single protocol for all types of communication?

Let’s answer this by looking at the protocols we established for communication earlier:

  • Both people must be facing each other
  • Both people must give their full attention to the other
  • They should both be speaking the same language
  • Neither Ahmed nor Adam should interrupt the other while speaking

If Adam and Ahmed were speaking on the phone,  would this fit our Protocol?

  • Both people must be facing each other [NO]
  • Both people must give their full attention to the other [YES]
  • They should both be speaking the same language [YES]
  • Neither Ahmed nor Adam should interrupt the other while speaking [YES]

Since the full set of rules were not followed, the protocol doesn’t work here and will have to be changed and adapted for speaking on the phone.

This is exactly why we have different protocols for different scenarios!

Below are a few examples of some common Protocols and their uses:

  • FTP [File Transfer Protocol] – Used to transmit files
  • HTTP [Hypertext Transfer Protocol] – Used to transmit and display web pages
  • NTP [Network Time Protocol] – Synchronises time across networks

I hope this helps.

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