What Are Network Protocols? (With Categories and Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 6, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Modern information technology has become an integral part of businesses' daily operations. These technologies, such as network protocol, provide connectivity, improving communication and business operations. Understanding these protocols can help you recognize how to employ them to improve your workplace efficiency, regardless of your profession.

In this article, we define a network protocol, examine implementing a network protocol, outline the different categories, and highlight the common types.

What are network protocols?

Network protocols are a framework of rules that guide data exchange between devices that share a connection over the same network, regardless of location. This means that it enables linked devices to interact with one another regardless of the variations in internal operations, design, or structure. Generally, this protocol helps devices communicate using already determined rules in software or hardware, similar to how people communicate using the same language. It helps break down complicated and large data sets into smaller bits of data or data packets at all levels of the network.

It's necessary that both devices accept and follow the protocol convention to send and receive data. In turn, each protocol suite works together to achieve a common aim of transferring data packets. A protocol suite refers to a collection of smaller protocols that function together. This protocol suite uses end-to-end connections to specify how data devices transfer, route, and receive data. Protocols divide data packets into three parts, the header, payload, and footer. The packet headers and footers contain the network requirement information like the address of the devices, while the payload contains the data in transmission.

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Implementing a network protocol

A network protocol is useful as services on devices rather than software. They aren't codes but sets of rules and regulations for sharing information and data among devices. Each type of protocol constitutes a core skill that a field requires. This is because each protocol has specific rules for organizing and transferring data. Roles like cloud architect, infrastructure engineer, cybersecurity consultant, network engineer, information systems manager, network analyst or administrator, and webmaster are roles that require the implementation of a protocol.

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Categories of a network protocol

Here are the three broad categories of a network protocol:


Management protocols help describe the processes and rules that guide maintaining and monitoring a network. These protocols also help communicate the requirements across the network to ensure a good connection. Management protocols also help with troubleshooting network connections between a host and client. Examples of management protocols include ICMP, SNMP, FTP, Gopher, POP3, and Telnet.


Security protocols help secure data as it transmits over a network. These protocols determine the parameters for the protection of data from unauthorized access. Through reliance on encryption to secure data, security protocols ensure that unauthorized devices and users can't access the network data. Some examples of security protocols include SSL, TSL, and HTTPS.

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Communication protocols

Communication protocols set the rules for the transfer of data over a network. These protocols work on semantics, error detection, authentication, and synchronization of data transmission over a network. Examples of communication protocols include HTTP, UDP, TCP, ARP, IP, BGP, and DHCP.

Types of network protocol

Across the three main categories, these protocol comes in different types, and they include:

File transfer protocol (FTP)

File transfer protocol allows local and distant devices to share files. This protocol establishes a control and data connection to transfer files. The data connection transfers the file, while the control connection transfers administrative information such as passwords and instructions for receiving and saving files. During the whole file transfer procedure, both of these connections are active simultaneously. File transfer protocol allows sharing of large files and continuation of file transfer where there's an interruption. This protocol also allows the scheduling of file transfer and recovery of data.

Internet protocol (IP)

Internet protocol contains the routing and control information that assists in routing packets in a network. IP and TCP operate concurrently to transfer data packets over a network. Each host gets a 32-bit IO address that consists of the network number and the host number. A network administrator assigns the host number, which identifies a host on the network. The internet assigns the network number, and this number identifies a network. IP ensures the delivery of data packets while TCP puts them in the proper order. IPv6 is the latest version, and it increases the address size to 128 bits.

Address resolution protocol (ARP)

Address resolution protocol helps map IP addresses to physical hardware addresses that local networks recognize. ARP cache is a table that helps maintain a link between the IP address and the relevant MAC address. A MAC address is a unique hardware identifier that identifies each device on a network connection. ARP provides the rules for making these connections and assists with converting addresses in both directions. The ARP cache stores all MAC addresses and automatically converts them to IP addresses, so memorizing them is unnecessary.

User datagram protocol (UDP)

UDP is a file transfer protocol that provides a straightforward but insecure transfer service. Unlike TCP, UDP doesn't include dependability, flow control, or error recovery features. When the security protocols of TCP aren't a requirement, UDP becomes relevant. UDP doesn't allow for the retransmission of lost data packets. UDP allows for broadcast connections, multicast connections, and file transfers quicker than TCP.

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Telnet (Terminal emulation protocol)

Terminal emulation protocol allows users to communicate remotely. A device requires a telnet client that connects to another distant system's command-line interface running a Telnet server application to use this protocol. Network administrators typically use Telnet to access and manage distant devices. The network administrator first inputs the remote device's IP address or hostname. Then, they get a virtual terminal that allows communication with the host. Telnet is compatible with various operating systems and saves time through its quick connection to remote devices.

Simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP)

SMTP is an efficient and reliable electronic mail transfer protocol. It's a protocol that transmits emails between computers and alerts users when new emails arrive. SMTP is primarily responsible for sending emails as a push protocol, while POP and IMAP retrieve those emails for the recipient. You can use SMTP to send an email to another user on the same network or another network through a gateway connection that both networks have access to. It's simple to set up and connects to any system without difficulty.

Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP)

HTTP is a protocol for exchanging hypermedia among two or more devices. This protocol operates on a client-server model where the web browser is the client, and this model allows a client device to request a connection with the server machine. HTTP is a protocol for sharing data such as text, photos, and other multimedia files across the internet. This protocol ensures that the client and server can't retain information through requests as both devices only communicate when the connection is active. This protocol is less congested due to fewer TCP connections, though there's no encryption making it less secure.

Dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP)

DHCP allows for automation of IP assignment by network administrators. Devices connecting to the internet over an IP network can't do so without a distinct IP address. This protocol allows network administrators to disseminate IP addresses from a central position automatically. It uses a client-server network model. DCHP allows for adding new clients seamlessly and using IP addresses multiple times.

Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS)

HTTPS is a protocol for securing communication between two or more devices. This protocol operates on a client-server framework where the web browser is the client. The information transfer on this protocol makes use of HTTP. HTTP is similar to HTTPS, with the only difference being that HTTPS uses encryption to secure data packets on the network. As a result, HTTPS prevents hackers from interpreting or altering data while users send packets.

Simple network management protocol (SNMP)

A simple network management protocol is an application layer protocol for managing nodes on an IP network, such as servers, workstations, routers, and switches. Network administrators can use SNMP to track network performance, discover network flaws, and resolve them. This protocol consists of an SNMP agent, an SNMP manager, and the device they're managing.

The SNMP agent converts its management information into a format acceptable by the SNMP manager. This SNMP agent is on the device. Then the SNMP manager displays data from the SNMP agent, which helps network administrators manage networks more efficiently. There are three versions of the SNMP, v1, v2, and v3.

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