The Internet Protocol (IP) is the network layer communications protocol in the Internet protocol suite for relaying datagrams across network boundaries. Its routing function enables internetworking, and essentially establishes the Internet.

IP has the task of delivering packets from the source host to the destination host solely based on the IP addresses in the packet headers. For this purpose, IP defines packet structures that encapsulate the data to be delivered. It also defines addressing methods that are used to label the datagram with source and destination information.

IP was the connectionless datagram service in the original Transmission Control Program introduced by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn in 1974, which was complemented by a connection-oriented service that became the basis for the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). The Internet protocol suite is therefore often referred to as TCP/IP.

The first major version of IP, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), is the dominant protocol of the Internet. Its successor is Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), which has been in increasing deployment on the public Internet since around 2006.[1]


Encapsulation of application data carried by UDP to a link protocol frame

The Internet Protocol is responsible for addressing host interfaces, encapsulating data into datagrams (including fragmentation and reassembly) and routing datagrams from a source host interface to a destination host interface across one or more IP networks.[2] For these purposes, the Internet Protocol defines the format of packets and provides an addressing system.

Each datagram has two components: a header and a payload. The IP header includes a source IP address, a destination IP address, and other metadata needed to route and deliver the datagram. The payload is the data that is transported. This method of nesting the data payload in a packet with a header is called encapsulation.

IP addressing entails the assignment of IP addresses and associated parameters to host interfaces. The address space is divided into subnets, involving the designation of network prefixes. IP routing is performed by all hosts, as well as routers, whose main function is to transport packets across network boundaries. Routers communicate with one another via specially designed routing protocols, either interior gateway protocols or exterior gateway protocols, as needed for the topology of the network.[3]

Version history

A timeline for the development of the transmission control Protocol TCP and Internet Protocol IP
First Internet demonstration, linking the ARPANET, PRNET, and SATNET on November 22, 1977

In May 1974, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published a paper entitled "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication".[4] The paper's authors, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, described an internetworking protocol for sharing resources using packet switching among network nodes. A central control component of this model was the "Transmission Control Program" that incorporated both connection-oriented links and datagram services between hosts. The monolithic Transmission Control Program was later divided into a modular architecture consisting of the Transmission Control Protocol and User Datagram Protocol at the transport layer and the Internet Protocol at the internet layer. The model became known as the Department of Defense (DoD) Internet Model and Internet protocol suite, and informally as TCP/IP.

The following Internet Experiment Note (IEN) documents describe the evolution of the Internet Protocol into the modern version of IPv4:[5]

IP versions 1 to 3 were experimental versions, designed between 1973 and 1978.[6] Versions 2 and 3 supported variable-length addresses ranging between 1 and 16 octets (between 8 and 128 bits).[7] An early draft of version 4 supported variable-length addresses of up to 256 octets (up to 2048 bits)[8] but this was later abandoned in favor of a fixed-size 32-bit address in the final version of IPv4. This remains the dominant internetworking protocol in use in the Internet Layer; the number 4 identifies the protocol version, carried in every IP datagram. IPv4 is defined in RFC 791 (1981).

Version number 5 was used by the Internet Stream Protocol, an experimental streaming protocol that was not adopted.[6]

The successor to IPv4 is IPv6. IPv6 was a result of several years of experimentation and dialog during which various protocol models were proposed, such as TP/IX (RFC 1475), PIP (RFC 1621) and TUBA (TCP and UDP with Bigger Addresses, RFC 1347). Its most prominent difference from version 4 is the size of the addresses. While IPv4 uses 32 bits for addressing, yielding c. 4.3 billion (4.3×109) addresses, IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses providing c. 3.4×1038 addresses. Although adoption of IPv6 has been slow, as of January 2023, most countries in the world show significant adoption of IPv6,[9] with over 41% of Google's traffic being carried over IPv6 connections.[10]

The assignment of the new protocol as IPv6 was uncertain until due diligence assured that IPv6 had not been used previously.[11] Other Internet Layer protocols have been assigned version numbers,[12] such as 7 (IP/TX), 8 and 9 (historic). Notably, on April 1, 1994, the IETF published an April Fools' Day joke about IPv9.[13] IPv9 was also used in an alternate proposed address space expansion called TUBA.[14] A 2004 Chinese proposal for an "IPv9" protocol appears to be unrelated to all of these, and is not endorsed by the IETF.


The design of the Internet protocol suite adheres to the end-to-end principle, a concept adapted from the CYCLADES project. Under the end-to-end principle, the network infrastructure is considered inherently unreliable at any single network element or transmission medium and is dynamic in terms of the availability of links and nodes. No central monitoring or performance measurement facility exists that tracks or maintains the state of the network. For the benefit of reducing network complexity, the intelligence in the network is located in the end nodes.

As a consequence of this design, the Internet Protocol only provides best-effort delivery and its service is characterized as unreliable. In network architectural parlance, it is a connectionless protocol, in contrast to connection-oriented communication. Various fault conditions may occur, such as data corruption, packet loss and duplication. Because routing is dynamic, meaning every packet is treated independently, and because the network maintains no state based on the path of prior packets, different packets may be routed to the same destination via different paths, resulting in out-of-order delivery to the receiver.

All fault conditions in the network must be detected and compensated by the participating end nodes. The upper layer protocols of the Internet protocol suite are responsible for resolving reliability issues. For example, a host may buffer network data to ensure correct ordering before the data is delivered to an application.

IPv4 provides safeguards to ensure that the header of an IP packet is error-free. A routing node discards packets that fail a header checksum test. Although the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) provides notification of errors, a routing node is not required to notify either end node of errors. IPv6, by contrast, operates without header checksums, since current link layer technology is assumed to provide sufficient error detection.[15][16]

Link capacity and capability

The dynamic nature of the Internet and the diversity of its components provide no guarantee that any particular path is actually capable of, or suitable for, performing the data transmission requested. One of the technical constraints is the size of data packets possible on a given link. Facilities exist to examine the maximum transmission unit (MTU) size of the local link and Path MTU Discovery can be used for the entire intended path to the destination.[17]

The IPv4 internetworking layer automatically fragments a datagram into smaller units for transmission when the link MTU is exceeded. IP provides re-ordering of fragments received out of order.[18] An IPv6 network does not perform fragmentation in network elements, but requires end hosts and higher-layer protocols to avoid exceeding the path MTU.[19]

The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is an example of a protocol that adjusts its segment size to be smaller than the MTU. The User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and ICMP disregard MTU size, thereby forcing IP to fragment oversized datagrams.[20]


During the design phase of the ARPANET and the early Internet, the security aspects and needs of a public, international network could not be adequately anticipated. Consequently, many Internet protocols exhibited vulnerabilities highlighted by network attacks and later security assessments. In 2008, a thorough security assessment and proposed mitigation of problems was published.[21] The IETF has been pursuing further studies.[22]

See also


  1. ^ The Economics of Transition to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) (Report). OECD Digital Economy Papers. OECD. 2014-11-06. doi:10.1787/5jxt46d07bhc-en. Archived from the original on 2021-03-07. Retrieved 2020-12-04.
  2. ^ Charles M. Kozierok, The TCP/IP Guide, archived from the original on 2019-06-20, retrieved 2017-07-22
  3. ^ "IP Technologies and Migration — EITC". Archived from the original on 2021-01-05. Retrieved 2020-12-04.
  4. ^ Cerf, V.; Kahn, R. (1974). "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication" (PDF). IEEE Transactions on Communications. 22 (5): 637–648. doi:10.1109/TCOM.1974.1092259. ISSN 1558-0857. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-01-06. Retrieved 2020-04-06. The authors wish to thank a number of colleagues for helpful comments during early discussions of international network protocols, especially R. Metcalfe, R. Scantlebury, D. Walden, and H. Zimmerman; D. Davies and L. Pouzin who constructively commented on the fragmentation and accounting issues; and S. Crocker who commented on the creation and destruction of associations.
  5. ^ "Internet Experiment Note Index". Retrieved 2024-01-21.
  6. ^ a b Stephen Coty (2011-02-11). "Where is IPv1, 2, 3, and 5?". Archived from the original on 2020-08-02. Retrieved 2020-03-25.
  7. ^ Postel, Jonathan B. (February 1978). "Draft Internetwork Protocol Specification Version 2" (PDF). RFC Editor. IEN 28. Retrieved 6 October 2022. Archived 16 May 2019 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Postel, Jonathan B. (June 1978). "Internetwork Protocol Specification Version 4" (PDF). RFC Editor. IEN 41. Retrieved 11 February 2024. Archived 16 May 2019 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Strowes, Stephen (4 Jun 2021). "IPv6 Adoption in 2021". RIPE Labs. Archived from the original on 2021-09-20. Retrieved 2021-09-20.
  10. ^ "IPv6". Google. Archived from the original on 2020-07-14. Retrieved 2023-05-19.
  11. ^ Mulligan, Geoff. "It was almost IPv7". O'Reilly. Archived from the original on 5 July 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  12. ^ "IP Version Numbers". Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. Archived from the original on 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-07-25.
  13. ^ RFC 1606: A Historical Perspective On The Usage Of IP Version 9. April 1, 1994.
  14. ^ Ross Callon (June 1992). TCP and UDP with Bigger Addresses (TUBA), A Simple Proposal for Internet Addressing and Routing. doi:10.17487/RFC1347. RFC 1347.
  15. ^ RFC 1726 section 6.2
  16. ^ RFC 2460
  17. ^ Rishabh, Anand (2012). Wireless Communication. S. Chand Publishing. ISBN 978-81-219-4055-9. Archived from the original on 2024-06-12. Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  18. ^ Siyan, Karanjit. Inside TCP/IP, New Riders Publishing, 1997. ISBN 1-56205-714-6
  19. ^ Bill Cerveny (2011-07-25). "IPv6 Fragmentation". Arbor Networks. Archived from the original on 2016-09-16. Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  20. ^ Parker, Don (2 November 2010). "Basic Journey of a Packet". Symantec. Symantec. Archived from the original on 20 January 2022. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  21. ^ Fernando Gont (July 2008), Security Assessment of the Internet Protocol (PDF), CPNI, archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-02-11
  22. ^ F. Gont (July 2011). Security Assessment of the Internet Protocol version 4. doi:10.17487/RFC6274. RFC 6274.