The Physical Layer
The physical layer is concerned with transmitting raw bits over a communication channel. The design issues have to do with making sure that when one side sends a 1 bit, it is received by the other side as a 1 bit, not as a 0 bit. Typical questions here are how many volts should be used to represent a 1 and how many for a 0, how many nanoseconds a bit lasts, whether transmission may proceed simultaneously in both directions, how the initial connection is established and how it is torn down when both sides are finished, and how many pins the network connector has and what each pin is used for. The design issues here largely deal with mechanical, electrical, and timing interfaces, and the physical transmission medium, which lies below the physical layer.
The main task of the data link layer is to transform a raw transmission facility into a line that appears free of undetected transmission errors to the network layer. It accomplishes this task by having the sender break up the input data into data frames (typically a few hundred or a few thousand bytes) and transmit the frames sequentially. If the service is reliable, the receiver confirms correct receipt of each frame by sending back an acknowledgement frame.
Another issue that arises in the data link layer (and most of the higher layers as well) is how to keep a fast transmitter from drowning a slow receiver in data. Some traffic regulation mechanism is often needed to let the transmitter know how much buffer space the receiver has at the moment. Frequently, this flow regulation and the error handling are integrated.
Broadcast networks have an additional issue in the data link layer: how to control access to the shared channel. A special sublayer of the data link layer, the medium access control sublayer, deals with this problem.
The network layer controls the operation of the subnet. A key design issue is determining how packets are routed from source to destination. Routes can be based on static tables that are ''wired into'' the network and rarely changed. They can also be determined at the start of each conversation, for example, a terminal session (e.g., a login to a remote machine). Finally, they can be highly dynamic, being determined anew for each packet, to reflect the current network load.
If too many packets are present in the subnet at the same time, they will get in one another's way, forming bottlenecks. The control of such congestion also belongs to the network layer. More generally, the quality of service provided (delay, transit time, jitter, etc.) is also a network layer issue.
When a packet has to travel from one network to another to get to its destination, many problems can arise. The addressing used by the second network may be different from the first one. The second one may not accept the packet at all because it is too large. The protocols may differ, and so on. It is up to the network layer to overcome all these problems to allow heterogeneous networks to be interconnected.
In broadcast networks, the routing problem is simple, so the network layer is often thin or even nonexistent.
The basic function of the transport layer is to accept data from above, split it up into smaller units if need be, pass these to the network layer, and ensure that the pieces all arrive correctly at the other end. Furthermore, all this must be done efficiently and in a way that isolates the upper layers from the inevitable changes in the hardware technology.
The transport layer also determines what type of service to provide to the session layer, and, ultimately, to the users of the network. The most popular type of transport connection is an error-free point-to-point channel that delivers messages or bytes in the order in which they were sent. However, other possible kinds of transport service are the transporting of isolated messages, with no guarantee about the order of delivery, and the broadcasting of messages to multiple destinations. The type of service is determined when the connection is established. (As an aside, an error-free channel is impossible to achieve; what people really mean by this term is that the error rate is low enough to ignore in practice.)
The transport layer is a true end-to-end layer, all the way from the source to the destination. In other words, a program on the source machine carries on a conversation with a similar program on the destination machine, using the message headers and control messages. In the lower layers, the protocols are between each machine and its immediate neighbors, and not between the ultimate source and destination machines, which may be separated by many routers. The difference between layers 1 through 3, which are chained, and layers 4 through 7, which are end-to-end, is illustrated in Fig.
The session layer allows users on different machines to establish sessions between them. Sessions offer various services, including dialog control (keeping track of whose turn it is to transmit), token management (preventing two parties from attempting the same critical operation at the same time), and synchronization (checkpointing long transmissions to allow them to continue from where they were after a crash).
Unlike lower layers, which are mostly concerned with moving bits around, the presentation layer is concerned with the syntax and semantics of the information transmitted. In order to make it possible for computers with different data representations to communicate, the data structures to be exchanged can be defined in an abstract way, along with a standard encoding to be used ''on the wire.'' The presentation layer manages these abstract data structures and allows higher-level data structures (e.g., banking records), to be defined and exchanged.
The application layer contains a variety of protocols that are commonly needed by users. One widely-used application protocol is HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), which is the basis for the World Wide Web. When a browser wants a Web page, it sends the name of the page it wants to the server using HTTP. The server then sends the page back. Other application protocols are used for file transfer, electronic mail, and network news.