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Introduction to TCP/IP-Networks

TCP/IP traces its origins to a research project funded by the United States DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in 1969. This was an experimental network, the ARPANET, which was converted into an operational one in 1975, after it had proven to be a success.

In 1983, the new protocol suite TCP/IP was adopted as a standard, and all hosts on the network were required to use it. When ARPANET finally grew into the Internet (with ARPANET itself passing out of existence in 1990), the use of TCP/IP had spread to networks beyond the Internet itself. Most notable are local area networks, but in the advent of fast digital telephone equipment, such as ISDN, it also has a promising future as a transport for dial-up networks.

For something concrete to look at as we discuss TCP/IP throughout the following sections, we will consider Groucho Marx University (GMU), situated somewhere in Fredland, as an example. Most departments run their own local area networks, while some share one, and others run several of them. They are all interconnected, and are hooked to the Internet through a single high-speed link.

Suppose your box is connected to a LAN of hosts at the Mathematics Department, and its name is erdos. To access a host at the Physics Department, say quark, you enter the following command:

           $ rlogin quark.physics
           Welcome to the Physics Department at GMU
           (ttyq2) login:
At the prompt, you enter your login name, say andres, and your password. You are then given a shell on quark, to which you can type as if you were sitting at the system's console. After you exit the shell, you are returned to your own machine's prompt. You have just used one of the instantaneous, interactive applications that TCP/IP provides: remote login.

While being logged into quark, you might also want to run an X11-based application, like a function plotting program, or a PostScript previewer. To tell this application that you want to have its windows displayed on your host's screen, you have to set the DISPLAY environment variable:

           $ export DISPLAY=erdos.maths:0.0
If you now start your application, it will contact your X server instead of quark's, and display all its windows on your screen. Of course, this requires that you have X11 running on erdos. The point here is that TCP/IP allows quark and erdos to send X11 packets back and forth to give you the illusion that you're on a single system. The network is almost transparent here.

Another very important application in TCP/IP networks is NFS, which stands for Network File System. It is another form of making the network transparent, because it basically allows you to mount directory hierarchies from other hosts, so that they appear like local file systems. For example, all users' home directories can be on a central server machine, from which all other hosts on the LAN mount the directory. The effect of this is that users can log into any machine, and find themselves in the same home directory. Similarly, it is possible to install applications that require large amounts of disk space (such as TeX) on only one machine, and export these directories to other machines. We will come back to NFS in chapter-gif.

Of course, these are only examples of what you can do over TCP/IP networks. The possibilities are almost limitless.

We will now have a closer look at the way TCP/IP works. You will need this to understand how and why you have to configure your machine. We will start by examining the hardware, and slowly work our way up.

Next: Ethernets Up: TCP/IP Networks Previous: TCP/IP Networks

Andrew Anderson
Thu Mar 7 23:22:06 EST 1996