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OSI Model

The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model is a reference tool for understanding data communications between any two networked systems. It divides the communications processes into seven layers. Each layer both performs specific functions to support the layers above it and offers services to the layers below it. The three lowest layers focus on passing traffic through the network to an end system. The top four layers come into play in the end system to complete the process. This white paper will provide you with an understanding of each of the seven layers, including their functions and their relationships to each other. This will provide you with an overview of the network process, which can then act as a framework for understanding the details of computer networking. Since the discussion of networking often includes talk of “extra layers”, this paper will address these unofficial layers as well. Finally, this paper will draw comparisons between the theoretical OSI model and the functional TCP/IP model. Although TCP/IP has been used for network communications before the adoption of the OSI model, it supports the same functions and features in a differently layered arrangement.

A networking model offers a generic means to separate computer networking functions into multiple layers. Each of these layers relies on the layers below it to provide supporting capabilities and performs support to the layers above it. Such a model of layered functionality is also called a “protocol stack” or “protocol suite”.

Protocols, or rules, can do their work in either hardware or software or, as with most protocol stacks, in a combination of the two. The nature of these stacks is that the lower layers do their work in hardware or firmware (software that runs on specific hardware chips) while the higher layers work in software.

The Open System Interconnection model is a seven-layer structure that specifies the requirements for communications between two computers. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard 7498-1 defined this model. This model allows all network elements to operate together, no matter who created the protocols and what computer vendor supports them.

The main benefits of the OSI model include the following:

  • Helps users understand the big picture of networking
  • Helps users understand how hardware and software elements function together
  • Makes troubleshooting easier by separating networks into manageable pieces
  • Defines terms that networking professionals can use to compare basic functional relationships on different networks
  • Helps users understand new technologies as they are developed
  • Aids in interpreting vendor explanations of product functionality

what is osi model

Principles on which OSI model was designed: 

  • A layer should be created where different level of abstraction is needed.
  • Each layer should perform a well-defined function.
  • The function of each layer should be chosen according to the internationally standardized protocols.

The number of layers should be large enough that distinct functions should not be put in the same layer and small enough that the architecture does not become very complex.

The 7 Layers of the OSI Model

The OSI, or Open System Interconnection, model defines a networking framework for implementing protocols in seven layers. Control is passed from one layer to the next, starting at the application layer in one station, proceeding to the bottom layer, over the channel to the next station and back up the hierarchy.

 

Application
(Layer 7)

This layer supports application and end-user processes. Communication partners are identified, quality of service is identified, user authentication and privacy are considered, and any constraints on data syntax are identified. Everything at this layer is application-specific. This layer provides application services for file transfers, e-mail, and other network software services. Telnet and FTP are applications that exist entirely in the application level. Tiered application architectures are part of this layer.

Presentation
(Layer 6)

This layer provides independence from differences in data representation (e.g., encryption) by translating from application to network format, and vice versa. The presentation layer works to transform data into the form that the application layer can accept. This layer formats and encrypts data to be sent across a network, providing freedom from compatibility problems. It is sometimes called the syntax layer.

Session
(Layer 5)

This layer establishes, manages and terminates connections between applications. The session layer sets up, coordinates, and terminates conversations, exchanges, and dialogues between the applications at each end. It deals with session and connection coordination.

Transport
(Layer 4)

This layer provides transparent transfer of data between end systems, or hosts, and is responsible for end-to-end error recovery and flow control. It ensures complete data transfer.

Network
(Layer 3)

This layer provides switching and routing technologies, creating logical paths, known as virtual circuits, for transmitting data from node to node. Routing and forwarding are functions of this layer, as well as addressing, internetworking, error handling, congestion control and packet sequencing.

Data Link
(Layer 2)

At this layer, data packets are encoded and decoded into bits. It furnishes transmission protocol knowledge and management and handles errors in the physical layer, flow control and frame synchronization. The data link layer is divided into two sublayers: The Media Access Control (MAC) layer and the Logical Link Control (LLC) layer. The MAC sublayer controls how a computer on the network gains access to the data and permission to transmit it. The LLC layer controls frame synchronization, flow control and error checking.

Physical
(Layer 1)

This layer conveys the bit stream – electrical impulse, light or radio signal — through the network at the electrical and mechanical level. It provides the hardware means of sending and receiving data on a carrier, including defining cables, cards and physical aspects. Fast Ethernet, RS232, and ATM are protocols with physical layer components.

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