While the TCP reliability functions provide more robust communication between applications, they also incur additional overhead and possible delays in transmission. There is a trade-off between the value of reliability and the burden it places on network resources. Imposing overhead to ensure reliability for some applications could reduce the usefulness of the application and can even be detrimental to the application. In such cases, UDP is a better transport protocol.

UDP provides just the basic functions for delivering data segments between the appropriate applications, with very little overhead and data checking. UDP is known as a best-effort delivery protocol. In the context of networking, best-effort delivery is referred to as unreliable, because there is no acknowledgement that the data is received at the destination. With UDP, there are no transport layer processes that inform the sender if successful delivery has occurred.

UDP is similar to placing a regular, non-registered, letter in the mail. The sender of the letter is not aware of whether a receiver is available to receive the letter, nor is the post office responsible for tracking the letter or informing the sender if the letter does not arrive at the final destination.

Click the Play button in the figure to see an animation of UDP segments being transmitted from sender to receiver.