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The Internet Protocol (IP) is the method or protocol by which data is sent from one computer to another on the Internet. Each computer (known as a host) on the Internet has at least one IP address that uniquely identifies it from all other computers on the Internet.

When you send or receive data (for example, an e-mail note or a Web page), the message gets divided into little chunks called packets. Each of these packets contains both the sender's Internet address and the receiver's address. Any packet is sent first to a gateway computer that understands a small part of the Internet. The gateway computer reads the destination address and forwards the packet to an adjacent gateway that in turn reads the destination address and so forth across the Internet until one gateway recognizes the packet as belonging to a computer within its immediate neighborhood or domain. That gateway then forwards the packet directly to the computer whose address is specified.

Because a message is divided into a number of packets, each packet can, if necessary, be sent by a different route across the Internet. Packets can arrive in a different order than the order they were sent in. The Internet Protocol just delivers them. It's up to another protocol, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to put them back in the right order.

IP is a connectionless protocol, which means that there is no continuing connection between the end points that are communicating. Each packet that travels through the Internet is treated as an independent unit of data without any relation to any other unit of data. (The reason the packets do get put in the right order is because of TCP, the connection-oriented protocol that keeps track of the packet sequence in a message.) In the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) communication model, IP is in layer 3, the Networking Layer.

The most widely used version of IP today is Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4). However, IP Version 6 (IPv6) is also beginning to be supported. IPv6 provides for much longer addresses and therefore for the possibility of many more Internet users. IPv6 includes the capabilities of IPv4 and any server that can support IPv6 packets can also support IPv4 packets.


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This definition is based on Internet Protocol Version 4. See Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) for a description of the newer 128-bit IP address. Note that the system of IP address classes described here, while forming the basis for IP address assignment, is generally bypassed today by use of Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) addressing.

In the most widely installed level of the Internet Protocol (IP) today, an IP address is a 32-bit number that identifies each sender or receiver of information that is sent in packets across the Internet. When you request an HTML page or send e-mail, the Internet Protocol part of TCP/IP includes your IP address in the message (actually, in each of the packets if more than one is required) and sends it to the IP address that is obtained by looking up the domain name in the Uniform Resource Locator you requested or in the e-mail address you're sending a note to. At the other end, the recipient can see the IP address of the Web page requestor or the e-mail sender and can respond by sending another message using the IP address it received.

An IP address has two parts: the identifier of a particular network on the Internet and an identifier of the particular device (which can be a server or a workstation) within that network. On the Internet itself - that is, between the router that move packets from one point to another along the route - only the network part of the address is looked at.

The Network Part of the IP Address

The Internet is really the interconnection of many individual networks (it's sometimes referred to as an internetwork). So the Internet Protocol (IP) is basically the set of rules for one network communicating with any other (or occasionally, for broadcast messages, all other networks). Each network must know its own address on the Internet and that of any other networks with which it communicates. To be part of the Internet, an organization needs an Internet network number, which it can request from the Network Information Center (NIC). This unique network number is included in any packet sent out of the network onto the Internet.

The Local or Host Part of the IP Address

In addition to the network address or number, information is needed about which specific machine or host in a network is sending or receiving a message. So the IP address needs both the unique network number and a host number (which is unique within the network). (The host number is sometimes called a local or machine address.)

Part of the local address can identify a subnetwork or subnet address, which makes it easier for a network that is divided into several physical subnetworks (for examples, several different local area networks or ) to handle many devices.

IP Address Classes and Their Formats

Since networks vary in size, there are four different address formats or classes to consider when applying to NIC for a network number:
Class A
addresses are for large networks with many devices.
Class B
addresses are for medium-sized networks.
Class C
addresses are for small networks (fewer than 256 devices).
Class D
addresses are multicast addresses.

The first few bits of each IP address indicate which of the address class formats it is using. The address structures look like this:

Class A

0 Network (7 bits) Local address (24 bits)

Class B

10 Network (14 bits) Local address (16 bits)

Class C

110 Network (21 bits) Local address (8 bits)

Class D

1110 Network (14 bits)

The IP address is usually expressed as four decimal numbers, each representing eight bits, separated by periods. This is sometimes known as the dot address and, more technically, as dotted quad notation. For Class A IP addresses, the numbers would represent "network.local.local.local"; for a Class C IP address, they would represent "network.network.network.local". The number version of the IP address can (and usually is) represented by a name or series of names called the domain name.

The Internet's explosive growth makes it likely that, without some new architecture, the number of possible network addresses using the scheme above would soon be used up (at least, for Class C network addresses). However, a new IP version, IPv6, expands the size of the IP address to 128 bits, which will accommodate a large growth in the number of network addresses. For hosts still using IPv4, the use of subnets in the host or local part of the IP address will help reduce new applications for network numbers. In addition, most sites on today's mostly IPv4 Internet have gotten around the Class C network address limitation by using the Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) scheme for address notation.

Relationship of the IP Address to the Physical Address

The machine or physical address used within an organization's local area networks may be different than the Internet's IP address. The most typical example is the 48-bit Ethernet address. TCP/IP includes a facility called the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) that lets the administrator create a table that maps IP addresses to physical addresses. The table is known as the ARP cache.

Static versus Dynamic IP Addresses

The discussion above assumes that IP addresses are assigned on a static basis. In fact, many IP addresses are assigned dynamically from a pool. Many corporate networks and online services economize on the number of IP addresses they use by sharing a pool of IP addresses among a large number of users. If you're an America Online user, for example, your IP address will vary from one logon session to the next because AOL is assigning it to you from a pool that is much smaller than AOL's base of subscribers.

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IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is a set of specifications from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that's essentially an upgrade of IP version 4 (IPv4). The basics of IPv6 are similar to those of IPv4 -- devices can use IPv6 as source and destination addresses to pass packets over a network, and tools like ping work for network testing as they do in IPv4, with some slight variations.

The most obvious improvement in IPv6 over IPv4 is that IP addresses are lengthened from 32 bits to 128 bits. This extension anticipates considerable future growth of the Internet and provides relief for what was perceived as an impending shortage of network addresses. IPv6 also supports auto-configuration to help correct most of the shortcomings in version 4, and it has integrated security and mobility features.

IPv6 features include:

  • Supports source and destination addresses that are 128 bits (16 bytes) long.
  • Requires IPSec support.
  • Uses Flow Label field to identify packet flow for QoS handling by router.
  • Allows the host to send fragments packets but not routers.
  • Doesn't include a checksum in the header.
  • Uses a link-local scope all-nodes multicast address.
  • Does not require manual configuration or DHCP.
  • Uses host address (AAAA) resource records in DNS to map host names to IPv6 addresses.
  • Uses pointer (PTR) resource records in the IP6.ARPA DNS domain to map IPv6 addresses to host names.
  • Supports a 1280-byte packet size (without fragmentation).
  • Moves optional data to IPv6 extension headers.
  • Uses Multicast Neighbor Solicitation messages to resolve IP addresses to link-layer addresses.
  • Uses Multicast Listener Discovery (MLD) messages to manage membership in local subnet groups.
  • Uses ICMPv6 Router Solicitation and Router Advertisement messages to determine the IP address of the best default gateway.

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Netstat is a common command line TCP/IP networking utility available in most versions of Windows, Linux, UNIX and other operating systems. Netstat provides information and statistics about protocols in use and current TCP/IP network connections. (The name derives from the words network and statistics.)

The Windows help screen (analogous to a Linux or UNIX man page) for netstat reads as follows: Displays protocol statistics and current TCP/IP network connections. NETSTAT -a -b -e -n -o -p proto -r -s -v interval.

-sDisplays per-protocol statistics. By default, statistics are shown for IP, IPv6, ICMP, ICMPv6, TCP, TCPv6, UDP, and UDPv6; the -p option may be used to specify a subset of the default.
-a Displays all connections and listening ports.
-b Displays the executable involved in creating each connection or listening port. In some cases well-known executables host multiple independent components, and in these cases the sequence of components involved in creating the connection or listening port is displayed. In this case the executable name is in [] at the bottom, on top is the component it called, and so forth until TCP/IP was reached. Note that this option can be time-consuming and will fail unless you have sufficient permissions.
-e Displays Ethernet statistics. This may be combined with the -s option.
-n Displays addresses and port numbers in numerical form.
-o Displays the owning process ID associated with each connection.
-p proto Shows connections for the protocol specified by proto; proto may be any of: TCP, UDP, TCPv6, or UDPv6. If used with the -s option to display per-protocol statistics, proto may be any of: IP, IPv6, ICMP, ICMPv6, TCP, TCPv6, UDP, or UDPv6.
-r Displays the routing table.
-v When used in conjunction with -b, will display sequence of components involved in creating the connection or listening port for all executables.
interval Redisplays selected statistics, pausing interval seconds between each display. Press CTRL+C to stop redisplaying statistics. If omitted, netstat will print the current configuration information once.

Careful perusal of this information informs the reader that netstat not only documents active TCP and UDP connections and related port addresses but that it can also tie established TCP or UDP connections to the executable files, runtime components, and process IDs that opened or use them. Netstat can also provide counts of byteunicast and non-unicast packets, discards, errors, and unknown protocols. Netstat can also show connections for transport layer protocols for IPv4 and IPv6, display routing table contents, and can redisplay selected statistics at regular intervals.

Netstat can be a helpful forensic tool when trying to determine what processes and programs are active on a computer and involved in networked communications. It can provide telltale signs of malware compromise under some circumstances and is a good tool to use to observe what kinds of communications are underway at any given time.


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A URL (Uniform Resource Locator), as the name suggests, provides a way to locate a resource on the web, the hypertext system that operates over the internet. The URL contains the name of the protocol to be used to access the resource and a resource name. The first part of a URL identifies what protocol to use. The second part identifies the IP address or domain name where the resource is located.

A URL is the most common type of Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). URIs are strings of characters used to identify a resource over a network.

URL protocols include HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and HTTPS (HTTP Secure) for web resources, "mailto" for email addresses, "ftp" for files on a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server, and telnet for a session to access remote computers.

A URL is mainly used to point to a webpage, a component of a webpage or a program on a website. The resource name consists of:

  • A domain name identifying a server or the web service; and
  • A program name or a path to the file on the server.

Optionally, it can also specify:

  • A network port to use in making the connection; or
  • A specific reference point within a file -- a named anchor in an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) file.

For example, http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2396.htm specifies that:

  • The resource is to be retrieved using the HTTP protocol (which powers the web) via a web browser;
  • The resource is reached through the domain name system (DNS) name, which could be a single server, a load-balanced cluster of servers or a service running on a system with a different name); and
  • The path to the specific resource is /rfc/rfc2396.htm.

In the following example, the URL would retrieve the file at the point marked with the named anchor "index": http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2396.htm#index

The following example -- https://delphicoracle.gr:45678/Prohesy?year=2020 -- specifies:

  • Use of the encrypted (secure) version of HTTP: HTTPS;
  • Use of a nonstandard port (45678) for the communication; and
  • Invocation of a program, "Prohesy" with parameter "year" set to value "2020".
Finally, this example -- ftp://www.somecompany.com/whitepapers/widgets.ps -- specifies use of the FTP protocol to download a file.

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UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is an alternative communications protocol to Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) used primarily for establishing low-latency and loss-tolerating connections between applications on the internet.

Both UDP and TCP run on top of the Internet Protocol (IP) and are sometimes referred to as UDP/IP or TCP/IP. But there are important differences between the two.

Where UDP enables process-to-process communication, TCP supports host-to-host communication. TCP sends individual packets and is considered a reliable transport medium; UDP sends messages, called datagrams, and is considered a best-effort mode of communications.

In addition, where TCP provides error and flow control, no such mechanisms are supported in UDP. UDP is considered a connectionless protocol because it doesn't require a virtual circuit to be established before any data transfer occurs.

UDP provides two services not provided by the IP layer. It provides port numbers to help distinguish different user requests and, optionally, a checksum capability to verify that the data arrived intact.

TCP has emerged as the dominant protocol used for the bulk of internet connectivity due to its ability to break large data sets into individual packets, check for and resend lost packets, and reassemble packets in the correct sequence. But these additional services come at a cost in terms of additional data overhead and delays called latency.

In contrast, UDP just sends the packets, which means that it has much lower bandwidth overhead and latency. With UDP, packets may take different paths between sender and receiver and, as a result, some packets may be lost or received out of order.

Applications of UDP
UDP is an ideal protocol for network applications in which perceived latency is critical, such as in gaming and voice and video communications, which can suffer some data loss without adversely affecting perceived quality. In some cases, forward error correction techniques are used to improve audio and video quality in spite of some loss.

UDP can also be used in applications that require lossless data transmission when the application is configured to manage the process of retransmitting lost packets and correctly arranging received packets. This approach can help to improve the data transfer rate of large files compared to TCP.

In the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) communication model, UDP, like TCP, is in Layer 4, the transport layer. UDP works in conjunction with higher level protocols to help manage data transmission services including Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP), Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), Simple Network Protocol (SNP) and domain name system (DNS) lookups.

User datagram protocol features
The user datagram protocol has attributes that make it advantageous for use with applications that can tolerate lost data.

  • It allows packets to be dropped and received in a different order than they were transmitted, making it suitable for real-time applications where latency might be a concern.
  • It can be used for transaction-based protocols, such as DNS or Network Time Protocol.

It can be used where a large number of clients are connected and where real-time error correction isn't necessary, such as gaming, voice or video conferencing, and streaming media.

UDP header composition
The User Datagram Protocol header has four fields, each of which is 2 bytes. They are:

  • source port number, which is the number of the sender;
  • destination port number, the port the datagram is addressed to;
  • length, the length in bytes of the UDP header and any encapsulated data; and
  • checksum, which is used in error checking. Its use is required in IPv6 and optional in IPv4.

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