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TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or IP for short) is the name given to a whole group of related protocols which comprise the language of the Internet. Although there’s nothing intrinsically better
about TCP/IP relative to better-known LAN protocols such as Novell’s IPX/SPX or Microsoft’s NetBEUI, it is rapidly becoming the de facto standard network protocol for one simple reason - the Internet.


IP has gone through multiple versions since its original development. Currently, version 4 is by far the most widely used. However, there are later revisions. Version 5 was never released, but its successor, once termed IPng (IP next generation) but now ratified as IPv6, is out there and will gradually replace the current version (IPv4). This is undoubtedly going to be a tremendous pain for everyone involved, as the changes are major, but it will be necessary. IPv4 uses
32-bit addresses, allowing for a theoretical maximum of 4,294,967,295 unique addresses. In October 1999 the number of human beings passed six billion, and the number of computers probably isn’t too far behind - and one day, they might all need to be connected.


Clearly, 32-bit addresses won’t be enough for very much longer, and this is the driving reason for IPv6, which uses 128-bit addresses, allowing a startlingly vast range of addresses: approximately 3.402824 x 1038. Estimates vary, but this should
be rather more than enough to allow every atom in the universe a unique IP address. Although the other changes between these versions are mostly minor and internal, the two protocols are not directly compatible; though they can share a network, IPv4 nodes and IPv6 nodes cannot directly communicate. Changing from one to the other is therefore a substantial task, and the transition will cause a comparable amount of trouble to the Y2K bug - and will come only a few years later. Right now, however, it is IPv4 that we must deal with, and that’s what we will look at here.

IP And Your LAN
Because the Internet is becoming so widespread as to be nearly universal, it is also becoming more useful in business. As more companies get connected, the viabil- ity of the Internet for business-to-business communication increases. Similarly, as more people use the Internet for personal or leisure purposes, its value as a way of reaching customers grows. Finally, even if neither of these appeals, the standardisation on Internet communications protocols and the fact that much Internet software is free means that, even for purely internal systems, businesses can reap significant cost savings by using Internet technologies.

As the Internet runs over IP, so do Internet-based applications. Whereas proprie- tary email systems such as Microsoft Mail use other, protocol-independent means of communication (such as shared file systems), Internet-based email programs communicate over IP, so client machines need an IP-based connection to the

Address Class First Octet Network Mask
A 1. to 127.
B 128. to 191.
C 192. to 233.
D 224. to 239. None

Figure 1 - Summary of Internet address classes.

server. For systems which require other protocols, such as older versions of Novell NetWare, it is possible to “tunnel” IP over other protocols - for example, by encapsulating IP packets inside IPX packets. If the client machine’s network stack hides this behind a standard API, such as Windows’ WINSOCK, IP-based appli- cations can run unmodified. As all major client and server OSes today support IP natively, even alongside other protocols, there’s little reason to do this, although it may be used for making secure, encrypted connections over public networks.

How It Works
The snag is that building an IP network requires significantly more planning than when using most other protocols. IP was developed in the 1960s for linking disparate networks - separate in both a geographical sense and in the sense of running different, incompatible systems. Protocols such as IPX and AppleTalk, intended for small LANs, are inherently simpler.

The first issue is IP addressing. Each device on an IP network requires a unique address. Unlike in other protocols, this is not automatically generated from the hardware (MAC) address; it must be manually assigned. The word “device” here is important. It does not mean each computer; IP addresses go by network port. For example, a server with two Ethernet cards (such as a firewall) would need two addresses, one per interface. Similarly, a machine with both a network card and a modem (or terminal adapter) requires addresses for both. To make matters even worse, it’s possible to give one port multiple addresses, a technique called “multihoming”. For instance, this allows a single machine to host several separate Web sites; each hostname points to a different address, but all refer to the same machine.

The address is divided into two parts: the network number and the host (or machine) number. All hosts on the same IP network must share the same network number, and no two hosts may share the same host number.

Subnet Masks
Alongside the address, each port requires a subnet mask. This value is used to split the complete address into network and host parts; in other words, to determine whether other IP addresses are on the local network or a remote one. These two values are the absolute minimum. Using these, a machine will be able to communicate with others on the local network if the other machine’s IP address is known. Additional information is usually required, though, to be able to access nodes on other networks, to access machines by name rather than number, and so on.

For direct access to networks beyond the current one (which isn’t always re- quired), each machine must be told the IP address of the router (or gateway) that connects the local network with the wider world.

Name Servers
For a small, server-based network with only one or two servers, access to them by their numeric IP address may be sufficient, but usually it’s desirable to use names instead. The most basic way of doing this is via a local configuration file called hosts. As a minimum, this contains a pair of entries per line, separated by spaces; first the address, then the corresponding name. However, for all but the

Class A 8
Network Number 16
Host number 24
Host number 32
Host number
1.-127. 0.-255. 0.-255. 0.-255
Class B Network Number
128.-191. Network Number
0.-255. Host number
0.-255. Host number
Class C Network Number
192.-223. Network Number
0.-255. Network Number
0.-255. Host number

Figure 2 - Network and host numbers by class.

most trivial of networks, keeping all the local files updated rapidly becomes a logistical nightmare, and it is desirable to set up a central server to resolve names to addresses. For this, one or more name servers must be set up, and each client machine configured with the name servers’ addresses. Name servers accept requests from the clients containing the name of a machine, such as www.cix.co.uk, and return the matching IP address. The industry standard system for this is the Domain Name Service (DNS).

Although IP was designed to be a cross-platform protocol, for many years it was mainly used on Unix, while mainframes, minicomputers and PCs used proprie- tary protocols (such as SNA, DECnet and NetBEUI respectively). IP was thus sometimes perceived as the Unix protocol. On Unix, the de facto standard package for providing DNS is the Berkeley Internet Name Daemon (BIND). Because, on Unix, DNS and BIND go hand-in-hand, the two abbreviations are occasionally and incorrectly used interchangeably. As it is such a fundamental part of an IP network, both functionally and as a performance bottleneck, most IP stacks expect to be supplied with the addresses of at least two DNS servers - a primary and a secondary.

However, DNS configuration is complex and the full functionality is not usually needed for a small LAN. Also, traditional DNS is static and does not cope gracefully with addresses that may change. For this reason, in Windows NT Server (both versions 3 and 4), Microsoft implemented its own proprietary system to deliver basic name-resolution services: the Windows Internet Name Service (WINS). WINS only works with Windows clients, but is far easier to configure than BIND. It automatically builds a table of machine names using NetBIOS broadcasts and, with a simple GUI, allows static addresses - for instance, of Unix servers - to be added to the database. Versions of Windows since Windows NT therefore expect WINS. Windows for Workgroups pre-dated Windows NT, but the additional 32-bit IP stack for Windows for Workgroups 3.11 came later; this and subsequent versions (such as Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT Workstation) have fields in the configuration dialog for WINS servers. Windows NT even complains if you click the OK button and these fields are left blank.