TCP/IP

TCP/IP is the binding that brings the Internet together, the webbing behind the Web, the stuff that makes the whole thing possible. What the letters stand for is actually pretty mundane -Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol - compared to what this set of rules has actually made possible.

The origins of TCP/IP are now over 30 years old, with TCP having been developed by Robert Kahn and Vincent Cerf during the early 70's as a way of reliably transmitting data packets through ground-based networks.

The protocol had to meet four separate goals: network connectivity - where any network could connect to any other through a gateway; distribution - there would be no central control or administration; error recovery - lost data packets could be retransmitted, and finally, black box design - no internal changes would have to be made to a network to connect it to other networks.

TCP/IP distinguished itself with its reliability, its connectivity and its relative independence from vendor control (this last point weighed against rival protocols such as Decnet.) In 1984 it was adopted as the universal standard for all military networking by the US Department of Defense, thereby becoming the de facto standard for all Internet networking.

This, taken all together, created a level playing field, a sort of online version of the BBC's old motto of 'Let nation speak unto nation' into 'Let network communicate with network' . This helped form the basis of the Internet's, and then the Web's, model of inclusivity, and provided the foundations on which the World Wide Web could operate.

As with many revolutionary ideas its potential was far from realised at the time. Alexander Graham Bell, the father of telephony, envisaged a time when every major city in America would have one of his appliances. Not in his wildest dreams would he have perceived the modern urbarnite with his office, home and perhaps two mobile phones.

Where it might end is perhaps something that I'll touch on in another blog, but for an interesting look at what might be, check out Thomas Friedmans book, 'The World is Flat', and ponder what could happen.