Lecture 33

Network architecture

MCS 260 Fall 2021
Emily Dumas


  • Homework 11 due tomorrow at 10am central
  • Central time is now GMT-6
  • Worksheet 12 available
  • Project 4 description coming Wed, will involve topic selection. Will have 7 days to choose topic.
  • No synchronous lecture Fri; will post lecture video instead
  • Networking

    A computer network is a group of computers that are connected to one another in a way that allows them to exchange data.

    There is a vast worldwide computer network called the internet to which we are all connected right now.

    Sample interaction

    I open a web browser, enter


    and press Enter. Soon, a web page is displayed.

    Today we'll discuss the layers of networking technology that are used in this process.

    First we need some additional concepts and terminology.

    Network concepts

    Computers in a network are hosts or nodes.

    Each host contains a device to send and receive data over the network. This is a network interface controller or NIC.

    e.g. ethernet adapters (wired) and wifi adapters (wireless) are NICs.

    Most modern networks (including the internet) are based on packets, i.e. groups of bits that move from one device to another as a unit.

    The internet supports many ways to communicate between hosts for different purposes. These are protocols, i.e. rules defining how the communication takes place.

    Protocols are a relatively high level concept. At a low level, everything comes down to packets that move from one NIC to another.


    The string http://example.com/ is a URL or Uniform Resource Locator. It has several parts:

    • http — the protocol (communication method) to use. Here it is the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which is the primary protocol for the web.
    • example.com — the name of the host where this resource is located (a web server)
    • The / at the end — the name of the resource we are requesting from example.com

    Loading example.com: Overview

    The name example.com is looked up in a directory, yielding a 4-byte numeric IP address like (byte values separated by dots).

    My computer opens a channel to talk to (called a TCP connection). The channel is a bit like a file.

    By writing to this channel, my computer asks for "/".

    By reading from this channel, my computer receives the content of the web page (in a language called HTML).

    Focus on one step where HTTP is used:

    By writing to this channel, my computer asks for "/".

    This is a complex operation. Let's dig into the details a bit more.

    In more detail

    HTTP is a protocol based on sending text commands. The command

    GET /

    will ask for the contents of / (which is really http://example.com/ since we're talking to example.com.)

    So we send this text over the channel.

    This is a complex operation. Let's dig into the details a bit more.

    GET / is translated into a packet of data to send to The string itself is in this packet, along with a bunch of control data.

    This packet is sent, it passes through a number of intermediate hosts along its way, and it is received by the web server at example.com.

    (The web server sends a packet back to acknowledge receipt, so we determine there is no need to resend.)

    This is a complex operation. Let's dig into the details a bit more.

    A packet needs to go to IP address

    The NIC in my computer can only send packets to other NICs on the local network, each of which is identified by a hardware address (or MAC).

    This IP address is not on our local network. Therefore, we send this packet to the router, whose MAC the OS knows.

    The router will figure out what to do next (e.g. forward the packet to some other part of the internet).

    This is a complex operation. Let's dig into the details a bit more.

    We have a packet ready to go to the router.

    It is a sequence of bytes, including lots of control data:

    11 11 11 11 11 11 22 22 22 22 22 22 08 00 45 00   ......""""""..E.
    02 49 7e f8 40 00 40 06 79 c3 0a 00 00 21 5d b8   .I~.@.@.y....!].
    d8 22 ba a4 00 50 90 19 f9 ae ae e9 d2 ea 80 18   ."...P..........
    01 f6 42 2f 00 00 01 01 08 0a 03 1e 08 54 d9 98   ..B/.........T..
    ab d5 47 45 54 20 2f 20 48 54 54 50 2f 31 2e 31   ..GET / HTTP/1.1
    0d 0a 48 6f 73 74 3a 20 65 78 61 6d 70 6c 65 2e   ..Host: example.
    63 6f 6d 0d 0a 43 6f 6e 6e 65 63 74 69 6f 6e 3a   com..Connection:
    20 6b 65 65 70 2d 61 6c 69 76 65 0d 0a 43 61 63    keep-alive..Cac
    68 65 2d 43 6f 6e 74 72 6f 6c 3a 20 6d 61 78 2d   he-Control: max-
    61 67 65 3d 30 0d 0a 44 4e 54 3a 20 31 0d 0a 55   age=0..DNT: 1..U

    The NIC changes the voltage on certain wires of the network cable in a pattern corresponding to the bits of this packet. The router at the other end of the cable monitors these wires and reconstructs the packet.

    Network layers

    • Application layer: Programs request operations that involve the network in some way.
    • Transport layer: A communication channel is created between two hosts.
    • Network layer: A packet moves from one device to another, possibly passing through many devices along the way. (IP based)
    • Link layer: A packet moves from one device to another using a direct connection. (MAC based)
    • Physical layer: Voltages on a wire, radio signals, etc.

    Network layers in this example

    • Application layer: Get http://example.com/ using HTTP.
    • Transport layer: The text "GET /" is sent along a TCP channel to example.com.
    • Network layer: A packet is sent to IP
    • Link layer: My computer's NIC sends a packet to the router's MAC. The router handles the next "hop".
    • Physical layer: The NIC generates electrical signals on wires in the network cable.

    Next time

    Application layer network operations in Python:

    Making HTTP requests with the urllib module.


    Revision history

    • 2021-11-08 Initial publication
    • 2021-11-08 Typos corrected