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What is the difference between TCP & UDP?

Last Updated on August 10, 2023 by Mayank Dham

The primary difference between TCP and UDP lies in their connection characteristics. TCP operates as a connection-based protocol, while UDP functions in a connectionless manner. Although TCP prioritizes reliability, it tends to transmit data at a slower pace. On the other hand, UDP emphasizes speed but offers lower reliability. As a result, these two protocols are tailored for distinct forms of data transfer.

Protocols serve as regulations dictating the format and transmission of data across a network. TCP and UDP represent two distinct approaches to achieving the identical objective: conveying data over the internet. These mechanisms facilitate communication between servers and devices, enabling activities such as email sending, Netflix streaming, gaming, and web browsing.

What is TCP?

TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol. It is one of the core protocols of the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) and is responsible for establishing and maintaining reliable communication between devices over a network. TCP ensures that data is delivered accurately and in the correct order between sender and receiver.

What is UDP?

UDP stands for User Datagram Protocol. It is another core protocol within the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) and is used for transmitting data between devices over a network. Unlike TCP, UDP is a connectionless protocol, which means it does not establish a formal connection before data transfer and does not guarantee reliable delivery or data ordering.

Difference between TCP and UDP

Given below is the difference between TCP and UDP:

Category TCP UDP
Full form It stands for Transmission Control Protocol. It stands for User Datagram Protocol.
Type of connection It operates as a protocol with a connection-oriented nature, necessitating the establishment of a connection prior to data transmission across the network. It functions as a connectionless protocol, implying that it transmits data without verifying whether the system is prepared to receive it or not.
Reliable TCP is deemed reliable due to its capacity to ensure the delivery of data packets. UDP is characterized as an unreliable protocol since it does not undertake the responsibility of ensuring packet delivery.
Speed TCP exhibits a slower pace in comparison to UDP because it executes error checking, flow control, and ensures data delivery. UDP demonstrates swifter performance than TCP due to its lack of assurance for data packet delivery.
Header size The size of TCP is 20 bytes. The size of the UDP is 8 bytes.
Acknowledgment TCP employs the three-way handshake principle, wherein the sender waits for an acknowledgment (ACK) before transmitting data. Additionally, TCP possesses the capability to retransmit lost data. UDP proceeds to transmit data without awaiting any acknowledgment.
Flow control mechanism It adheres to a flow control mechanism that prevents an excessive number of packets from being simultaneously sent to the receiver. This protocol follows no such mechanism.
Error checking TCP conducts error checking through the utilization of a checksum. If errors are detected, the corrected data is subsequently retransmitted to the receiver. It does not engage in error checking, nor does it initiate the retransmission of lost data packets.
Applications This protocol finds primary application in scenarios necessitating secure and dependable communication processes, such as military services, web browsing, and email. This protocol is employed in situations that prioritize swift communication and do not place a high emphasis on reliability. Examples include VoIP, game streaming, video and music streaming, and similar applications.

Which is Better TCP or UDP?

The choice between TCP and UDP depends on your online activities and the nature of the data being transmitted. UDP excels in online gaming due to its rapid data transfer, contributing to a nearly lag-free gaming experience. On the other hand, when transferring files such as family photos, TCP’s reliability ensures data preservation in its original state.

In essence, TCP and UDP are valuable protocols, and framing it as TCP vs UDP oversimplifies their roles. Depending on the specific data transfer requirements, either TCP or UDP might be more suitable for the task.

How does TCP work?

TCP operates through a "three-way handshake," a three-step sequence that establishes a connection between a device and a server. Upon completing this process, a continuous connection is established, initiating the transmission of data packets over the internet. These packets are sent securely, ensuring their intact delivery, and acknowledgments are exchanged to confirm successful delivery.

Here’s how TCP works:

The process starts with the client device initiating the data transfer by dispatching a sequence number (SYN) to the server. This SYN informs the server about the designated starting number for the data packet transfer.
Upon receipt of the client’s SYN, the server responds by acknowledging it and transmitting its own SYN number. This stage is commonly denoted as SYN-ACK (SYN acknowledgement).
Subsequently, the client affirms the receipt of the server’s SYN-ACK by sending an acknowledgment (ACK). This step establishes a direct connection and triggers the commencement of data transfer.

How does UDP work?

The UDP protocol operates by promptly dispatching data to the recipient who initiated a data transmission request, persisting until the transmission concludes or is terminated. Occasionally referred to as a "fire-and-forget" protocol, UDP expeditiously sends data to the recipient without adhering to a specific sequence, lacking confirmation of delivery or verification of packet integrity.

In contrast, TCP establishes a formal connection through its "handshake" process prior to data transmission. UDP, however, foregoes this step, accelerating data transfer by dispatching packets without entering into any agreement with the recipient. Subsequently, the recipient assumes the responsibility of interpreting the received data.

The difference between TCP and UDP lies in their fundamental approaches to data transmission. TCP offers reliability, error checking, and data ordering through a connection-oriented process, making it suitable for applications that prioritize accuracy and data integrity. UDP, on the other hand, focuses on speed and efficiency, operating as a connectionless protocol that quickly sends data without extensive error-checking or acknowledgments. The choice between TCP and UDP depends on the specific requirements of the application, with TCP being preferred for tasks like file transfer and web browsing, and UDP being more suitable for real-time applications like streaming and gaming.

FAQs related to the Difference between TCP and UDP

Here are some Frequently asked questions related to the difference between TCP and UDP:

1. What is the main advantage of TCP over UDP?
The main advantage of TCP over UDP is its reliability. TCP ensures that data is delivered accurately, in the correct order, and without loss by using acknowledgments, error-checking, and retransmission mechanisms.

2. When would you use UDP instead of TCP?
UDP is used when speed and low latency are crucial, and occasional data loss can be tolerated. It is suitable for real-time applications like online gaming, streaming, VoIP, and situations where speed is prioritized over data integrity.

3. Is UDP more secure than TCP?
Neither UDP nor TCP provides inherent security features. Both protocols can be vulnerable to various types of attacks. Implementing security measures, such as encryption and authentication, is essential regardless of the chosen protocol.

4. Can UDP be used for file transfer?
While UDP can be used for file transfer, it is less suitable compared to TCP due to its lack of reliability guarantees. File transfer applications often require accurate and complete data delivery, making TCP a more appropriate choice.

5. Is streaming video over TCP or UDP better?
Streaming video is often better suited for UDP due to its speed and low latency characteristics. Real-time streaming services, such as video and music streaming, benefit from the rapid data transmission offered by UDP.

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