Tracking Individual Conversations

At the transport layer, each particular set of data flowing between a source application and a destination application is known as a conversation (Figure 1). A host may have multiple applications that are communicating across the network simultaneously. Each of these applications communicates with one or more applications on one or more remote hosts. It is the responsibility of the transport layer to maintain and track these multiple conversations.

Segmenting Data and Reassembling Segments

Data must be prepared to be sent across the media in manageable pieces. Most networks have a limitation on the amount of data that can be included in a single packet. Transport layer protocols have services that segment the application data into blocks of data that are an appropriate size (Figure 2). This service includes the encapsulation required on each piece of data. A header, used for reassembly, is added to each block of data. This header is used to track the data stream.

At the destination, the transport layer must be able to reconstruct the pieces of data into a complete data stream that is useful to the application layer. The protocols at the transport layer describe how the transport layer header information is used to reassemble the data pieces into streams to be passed to the application layer.

Identifying the Applications

There may be many applications or services running on each host in the network. To pass data streams to the proper applications, the transport layer must identify the target application (Figure 3). To accomplish this, the transport layer assigns each application an identifier. This identifier is called a port number. Each software process that needs to access the network is assigned a port number unique in that host. The transport layer uses ports to identify the application or service.