Network Basics: Following a Packet through the Layers

In a computer network, a packet of information flows through seven layers as it travels from one computer to another. The data begins its journey when an end-user application sends data to another network computer.

The data enters the network through an Application layer interface, such as SMB. The data then works its way down through the protocol stack.

Along the way, the protocol at each layer manipulates the data by adding header information, converting the data into different formats, combining packets to form larger packets, and so on. When the data reaches the Physical layer protocol, it’s actually placed on the network media (in other words, the cable) and sent to the receiving computer.


When the receiving computer receives the data, the data works its way up through the protocol stack. Then, the protocol at each layer reverses the processing that was done by the corresponding layer on the sending computer. Headers are removed, data is converted back to its original format, packets that were split into smaller packets are recombined into larger messages, and so on.

When the packet reaches the Application layer protocol, it’s delivered to an application that can process the data.