LeoGlossary: Protocol

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What Does Protocol Mean?

A protocol is a set of rules for formatting and processing data. It is what allows for the communicating of data between different devices.

The protocol defines:

  • rules
  • syntax
  • semantics
  • synchronization of communication
  • different error recovery methods

It is implement by the hardware, software, or some combination.

In a network, there are different computers running various types of software. Protocols allow them all to interact and speak a common "language". Networks have to follow the rules to successfully transmit data.

Protocols specify the communication standards and provide detailed info on processes involved in data transfer. Such processes include:

  • Kind of task
  • Process nature
  • Data flow rate
  • Type of data
  • Device management

A single process can be handled by more than one protocol simultaneously.

In digital computing systems, the rules can be expressed by algorithms and data structures. Protocols are to communication what algorithms or programming languages are to computations.

Decentralized Networks

Any new technology will require its own protocols. Communication systems changed over the decade, with decentralization forecast to be part of the next generation Internet. This all ties into computation and storage.

With a blockchain network, the protocols usually involve consensus, transaction validation, and network participation. This allows the different nodes to interact with each other in a seamless manner.

Part of the development of infrastructure is the creation of protocols to allow different participants interact with the system. This is crucial for wallets, websites, and applications.

Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model

This is a basic, albeit abstract, representation of how the Internet operates.

  • Physical Layer - raw data from the physical medium
  • Datalink Layer - defines format of data
  • Network Layer - decides on the physical path
  • Transport Layer - transmits data using TCP and UDP
  • Session Layer - responsible for ports and sessions along with corrections
  • Presentation Layer - encryption is added to data
  • Application Layer - the human connection layer where application accesses network services

Cyber Attacks

Like any other aspect of computing, protocols have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. A common way to do this is with a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS). Here we see the attacker keep transmitting data ensuring the server is unable to service legitimate users.

Example of Protocols Types

  • TCP- and UDP-based protocols
  • Automation
  • Bluetooth
  • File transfer
  • Instant messaging
  • Internet Protocol
  • Link aggregation
  • OSI protocols
  • Protocol stacks
  • Routing
  • Web services


For protocols to be effective, a standard is required. This means consensus must be reached among the different participants.

Often standards boards are established to decide on specific protocols. This usually is comprised of major market participants.

Standardization can come from adoption. Sometimes a protocol is designed and, as things evolve, people simply gravitate towards it. If the majority of developers are utilizing a protocol in their projects, it simply becomes the norm.

Examples of Standardization Organizations:

  • the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  • the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
  • the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
  • the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Each deals with different aspects of communication and the Internet.


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