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This is an unpolished draft of the third edition of this e-book. If you find any error or have suggestions to improve the text, please create an issue via or help us by providing pull requests to close the existing issues.
The first step when building a network, even a worldwide network such as the Internet, is to connect two hosts together. This is illustrated in the figure below.
To enable the two hosts to exchange information, they need to be linked together by some kind of physical media. Computer networks have used various types of physical media to exchange information, notably :
`electrical cable`. Information can be transmitted over different types of electrical cables. The most common ones are the twisted pairs (that are used in the telephone network, but also in enterprise networks) and the coaxial cables (that are still used in cable TV networks, but are no longer used in enterprise networks). Some networking technologies operate over the classical electrical cable.
`optical fiber`. Optical fibers are frequently used in public and enterprise networks when the distance between the communication devices is larger than one kilometer. There are two main types of optical fibers : multi-mode and single-mode. Multi-mode is much cheaper than single-mode fiber because a LED can be used to send a signal over a multi-mode fiber while a single-mode fiber must be driven by a laser. Due to the different modes of propagation of light, multi-mode fibers are limited to distances of a few kilometers while single-mode fibers can be used over distances greater than several tens of kilometers. In both cases, repeaters can be used to regenerate the optical signal at one endpoint of a fiber to send it over another fiber.
`wireless`. In this case, a radio signal is used to encode the information exchanged between the communicating devices. Many types of modulation techniques are used to send information over a wireless channel and there is lot of innovation in this field with new techniques appearing every year. While most wireless networks rely on radio signals, some use a laser that sends light pulses to a remote detector. These optical techniques allow to create point-to-point links while radio-based techniques can be used to build networks containing devices spread over a small geographical area.
The physical layer
These physical media can be used to exchange information once this information has been converted into a suitable electrical signal. Entire telecommunication courses and textbooks are devoted to the problem of converting analog or digital information into an electrical signal so that it can be transmitted over a given physical `link`. In this book, we only consider two very simple schemes that allow to transmit information over an electrical cable. This enables us to highlight the key problems when transmitting information over a physical link. We are only interested in techniques that allow transmitting digital information through the wire. Here, we will focus on the transmission of bits, i.e. either `0` or `1`.
Bit rate
In computer networks, the bit rate of the physical layer is always expressed in bits per second. One Mbps is one million bits per second and one Gbps is one billion bits per second. This is in contrast with memory specifications that are usually expressed in bytes (8 bits), KiloBytes (1024 bytes) or MegaBytes (1048576 bytes). Transferring one MByte through a 1 Mbps link lasts 8.39 seconds.
Bits per second
1 Kbps
1 Mbps
1 Gbps
1 Tbps
To understand some of the principles behind the physical transmission of information, let us consider the simple case of an electrical wire that is used to transmit bits. Assume that the two communicating hosts want to transmit one thousand bits per second. To transmit these bits, the two hosts can agree on the following rules :
On the sender side :
set the voltage on the electrical wire at ``+5V`` during one millisecond to transmit a bit set to `1`
set the voltage on the electrical wire at ``-5V`` during one millisecond to transmit a bit set to `0`
On the receiver side :
every millisecond, record the voltage applied on the electrical wire. If the voltage is set to ``+5V``, record the reception of bit `1`. Otherwise, record the reception of bit `0`
This transmission scheme has been used in some early networks. We use it as a basis to understand how hosts communicate. From a Computer Science viewpoint, dealing with voltages is unusual. Computer scientists frequently rely on models that enable them to reason about the issues that they face without having to consider all implementation details. The physical transmission scheme described above can be represented by using a `time-sequence diagram`.
A `time-sequence diagram` describes the interactions between communicating hosts. By convention, the communicating hosts are represented in the left and right parts of the diagram while the electrical link occupies the middle of the diagram. In such a time-sequence diagram, time flows from the top to the bottom of the diagram. The transmission of one bit of information is represented by three arrows. Starting from the left, the first horizontal arrow represents the request to transmit one bit of information. This request is represented by a `primitive` which can be considered as a kind of procedure call. This primitive has one parameter (the bit being transmitted) and a name (`DATA.request` in this example). By convention, all primitives that are named `something.request` correspond to a request to transmit some information. The dashed arrow indicates the transmission of the corresponding electrical signal on the wire. Electrical and optical signals do not travel instantaneously. The diagonal dashed arrow indicates that it takes some time for the electrical signal to be transmitted from `Host A` to `Host B`. Upon reception of the electrical signal, the electronics on `Host B`'s network interface detects the voltage and converts it into a bit. This bit is delivered as a `DATA.indication` primitive. All primitives that are named `something.indication` correspond to the reception of some information. The dashed lines also represents the relationship between two (or more) primitives. Such a time-sequence diagram provides information about the ordering of the different primitives, but the distance between two primitives does not represent a precise amount of time.
Time-sequence diagrams are useful when trying to understand the characteristics of a given communication scheme. When considering the above transmission scheme, it is useful to evaluate whether this scheme allows the two communicating hosts to reliably exchange information. A digital transmission is considered as reliable when a sequence of bits that is transmitted by a host is received correctly at the other end of the wire. In practice, achieving perfect reliability when transmitting information using the above scheme is difficult. Several problems can occur with such a transmission scheme.
The first problem is that electrical transmission can be affected by electromagnetic interference. Interference can have various sources including natural phenomenons (like thunderstorms, variations of the magnetic field,...) but also other electrical signals (such as interference from neighboring cables, interference from neighboring antennas,...). Due to these various types of interference, there is unfortunately no guarantee that when a host transmit one bit on a wire, the same bit is received at the other end. This is illustrated in the figure below where a `DATA.request(0)` on the left host leads to a `Data.indication(1)` on the right host.
With the above transmission scheme, a bit is transmitted by setting the voltage on the electrical cable to a specific value during some period of time. We have seen that due to electromagnetic interference, the voltage measured by the receiver can differ from the voltage set by the transmitter. This is the main cause of transmission errors. However, this is not the only type of problem that can occur. Besides defining the voltages for bits `0` and `1`, the above transmission scheme also specifies the duration of each bit. If one million bits are sent every second, then each bit lasts 1 microsecond. On each host, the transmission (resp. the reception) of each bit is triggered by a local clock having a 1 MHz frequency. These clocks are the second source of problems when transmitting bits over a wire. Although the two clocks have the same specification, they run on different hosts, possibly at a different temperature and with a different source of energy. In practice, it is possible that the two clocks do not operate at exactly the same frequency. Assume that the clock of the transmitting host operates at exactly 1000000 Hz while the receiving clock operates at 999999 Hz. This is a very small difference between the two clocks. However, when using the clock to transmit bits, this difference is important. With its 1000000 Hz clock, the transmitting host will generate one million bits during a period of one second. During the same period, the receiving host will sense the wire 999999 times and thus will receive one bit less than the bits originally transmitted. This small difference in clock frequencies implies that bits can "disappear" during their transmission on an electrical cable. This is illustrated in the figure below.
A similar reasoning applies when the clock of the sending host is slower than the clock of the receiving host. In this case, the receiver will sense more bits than the bits that have been transmitted by the sender. This is illustrated in the figure below where the second bit received on the right was not transmitted by the left host.
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This translation Propagated Read only cnp3-ebook/principles/reliability
The following strings have the same context and source.
Propagated Read only cnp3-ebook/protocols/ethernet
Propagated Read only cnp3-ebook/protocols/lan


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