UDP (User Datagram Protocol)

UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is a communications protocol that offers a limited amount of service when messages are exchanged between computers in a network that uses the Internet Protocol (IP).

UDP (User Datagram Protocol) is a communications protocol that offers a limited amount of service when messages are exchanged between computers in a network that uses the Internet Protocol (IP). UDP is an alternative to the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and, together with IP, is sometimes referred to as UDP/IP. Like the Transmission Control Protocol, UDP uses the Internet Protocol to actually get a data unit (called a datagram) from one computer to another. Unlike TCP, however, UDP does not provide the service of dividing a message into packets (datagrams) and reassembling it at the other end. Specifically, UDP doesn't provide sequencing of the packets that the data arrives in. This means that the application program that uses UDP must be able to make sure that the entire message has arrived and is in the right order. Network applications that want to save processing time because they have very small data units to exchange (and therefore very little message reassembling to do) may prefer UDP to TCP. The Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) uses UDP instead of TCP.

UDP provides two services not provided by the IP layer. It provides port numbers to help distinguish different user requests and, optionally, a checksum capability to verify that the data arrived intact.

In the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) communication model, UDP, like TCP, is in layer 4, the Transport Layer.

This was first published in September 2005

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