The Network Layer
is Layer 3 (of seven) in the OSI model
of networking. The Network Layer responds to service requests from the Transport Layer
and issues service requests to the Data Link Layer
In essence, the Network Layer is responsible for end-to-end (source to destination) packet delivery including any routing through intermediate hosts, whereas the link layer is responsible for node-to-node (hop-to-hop) frame delivery on the same link.
The Network Layer provides the functional and procedural means of transferring variable length data sequences from a source to a destination via one or more networks while maintaining the quality of service, and error control functions.
The Network Layer deals with transmitting information all the way from its source to its destination - transmitting from anywhere, to anywhere. Here are some things that the Network Layer needs to address:
- For example, snail mail is connectionless, in that a letter can travel from a sender to a recipient without the recipient having to do anything. On the other hand, the telephone system is connection-oriented, because the other party is required to pick up the phone before communication can be established. The OSI Network Layer protocol can be either connection-oriented, or connectionless. The IP Internet Layer (equivalent to OSI's Network Layer) supports only the connectionless Internet Protocol (IP); however, connection-oriented protocols, such as TCP, exist higher in the stack by enforcing reliability constraints through timeouts and resending packets.
- What are the Global Addresses?
- Everybody in the network needs to have a unique address which determines who he is. This address will normally be hierarchical, so you can be "Fred Murphy" to Dubliners, or "Fred Murphy, Dublin" to people in Ireland, or "Fred Murphy, Dublin, Ireland" to people anywhere in the world. On the internet, these addresses are known as IP Addresses.
- How do you forward a message?
- This is of particular interest to mobile applications, where a user may rapidly move from place to place, and it must be arranged that his messages follow him. Version 4 of the Internet Protocol (IPv4) doesn't really allow for this, though it has been hacked somewhat since its inception. Fortunately, the forthcoming IPv6 has a much better designed solution, which should make this type of application much smoother.
Relation to TCP/IP model
The TCP/IP model describes the protocol suite
of the Internet
(RFC 1122). This model has a layer called the Internet Layer
, located above the Link Layer
. In many text books and other secondary references the Internet Layer is often equated with OSI's Network Layer. However, this is misleading as the allowed characteristics of protocols (e.g., whether they are connection-oriented or connection-less) placed into these layer are different in the two models. The Internet Layer of TCP/IP is in fact only a subset of functionality of the Network Layer. It only describes one type of network architecture, the Internet.
In general, direct or strict comparisons between these models should be avoided, since the layering in TCP/IP is not a principal design criterion and in general considered to be "harmful" (RFC 3439).
- , Hubert Zimmermann, IEEE Transactions on Communications, vol. 28, no. 4, April 1980, pp. 425-432.