The OSI Reference Model


The Open System Interconnection (OSI) reference model is a principle of internetworking that you must understand to appreciate the way Cisco devices operate . The OSI reference model is a seven-layer architectural model developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunications Union-Telecommunications (ITU-T). It is used universally to help individuals understand network functionality. The OSI reference model adds structure to the many complexities involved in the development of communications software. The development of communications software involves many tasks , including dealing with multiple types of applications, transmission strategies, and physical network properties. Without structure, communications software might be difficult to write, change, and support.


ISO is an international organization founded to promote cooperation in technological developments, particularly in the field of communications. ITU-T, on the other hand, is a global organization that drafts standards for all areas of international analog and digital communications. ITU-T deals with telecommunications standards.

The OSI reference model is divided into seven distinct layers . Each layer performs a specific, distinct task that helps communications systems operate. The layer operates according to a set of rules, which is called a protocol. In addition to following the rules of the protocol, each layer provides a set of services to the other layers in the model. The seven layers of the OSI reference model are the application, presentation, session, transport, network, data link, and physical layers, as shown in Figure 1-1. In the following sections, we briefly review each layer, starting with the application layer.

Figure 1-1. The OSI Reference Model Contains Seven Layers


The Application Layer

The application layer provides the interface to the communications system, which the user sees. Many common applications are used today in an internetwork environment, such as web browsers, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) clients , and electronic mail. An example of application layer communication is a web browser downloading a document from a web server. The web browser and server are peer applications on the application layer that communicate directly with each other for the retrieval of the document. They are unaware of the six lower layers of the OSI reference model, which are working to produce the necessary communications.

The Presentation Layer

The presentation layer deals with the syntax of data as it is being transferred between two communicating applications. The presentation layer provides a mechanism to convey the desired presentation of data between applications. Many people infer that the look and feel of the environment of a computer desktop, such as the way all the applications look and interact uniformly on a computer by Apple Computer, Inc., is an example of a presentation layer. In fact, this is not a presentation layer, but a series of applications using a common programmer's interface. One common presentation layer in use today is Abstract Syntax Notation One (ASN.1), which is used by protocols such as the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to represent the structure of objects in network management databases.

The Session Layer

The session layer allows two applications to synchronize their communications and exchange data. This layer breaks the communication between two systems into dialogue units and provides major and minor synchronization points during that communication. For example, a large distributed database transaction between multiple systems might use session layer protocols to ensure that the transaction is progressing at the same rate on each system.

The Transport Layer

The transport layer, Layer 4, is responsible for the transfer of data between two session layer entities. Multiple classes of transport layer protocols exist, from those that provide basic transfer mechanisms (such as unreliable services) to those that ensure that the sequence of data arriving at the destination is in the proper order, that multiplex multiple streams of data, that provide a flow control mechanism, and that ensure reliability.

As you will see in the next section, some network layer protocols, called connectionless protocols, do not guarantee that the data arrives at the destination in the order in which it was sent by the source. Some transport layers handle this by sequencing the data properly before handing it to the session layer. Multiplexing of data means that the transport layer can simultaneously handle multiple streams of data (which could be from different applications) between two systems. Flow control is a mechanism that the transport layer can use to regulate the amount of data sent from the source to the destination. Transport layer protocols often add reliability to a session by having the destination system send acknowledgments back to the source system as it receives data.

In this text, we discuss the three commonly used transport protocols: the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) that is used on the Internet, Novell's Streams Packet Exchange (SPX), and Apple's AppleTalk Transport Protocol (ATP).

The Network Layer

The network layer, which routes data from one system to another, provides addressing for use on the internetwork. The Internet Protocol (IP) defines the global addressing for the Internet; Novell defines proprietary addressing for the Internetwork Packet Exchange (IPX), its client/server architecture; and Apple's AppleTalk uses the Datagram Delivery Protocol (DDP) and proprietary addressing for communicating between its machines on the network layer. In later chapters, we explore the specifics of each of these types of network layer addresses.

Network layer protocols route data from the source to the destination and fall into one of two classes, connection-oriented or connectionless. Connection-oriented network layers route data in a manner similar to using a telephone. They begin communicating by placing a call or establishing a route from the source to the destination. They send data down the given route sequentially and then end the call or close the communication. Connectionless network protocols, which send data that has complete addressing information in each network layer (OSI)packet, operate like the postal system. Each letter, or packet, has a source and a destination address. Each intermediate post office, or network device, reads this addressing and makes a separate decision on how to route the data. The letter, or data, continues from one intermediate device to another until it reaches the destination. Connectionless network protocols do not guarantee that packets arrive at the destination in the same order in which they were sent. Transport protocols are responsible for the sequencing of the data into the proper order for connectionless network protocols.

The Data Link Layer

Layer 2, the data link layer, provides the connection from the physical network to the network layer, thereby enabling the reliable flow of data across the network. Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Token Ring, Frame Relay, and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) are all Layer 2 protocols that are commonly used today. As you will see throughout this text, data link layer addressing is different from network layer addressing. Data link layer addresses are unique to each data link logical segment, while network layer addressing is used throughout the internetwork.

The Physical Layer

The first layer of the OSI reference model is the physical layer. The physical layer is concerned with the physical, electrical, and mechanical interfaces between two systems. The physical layer defines the properties of the network medium, such as fiber, twisted-pair copper, coaxial copper , satellite, and so on. Standard network interface types found on the physical layer include V.35, RS-232C, RJ-11, RJ-45, AUI, and BNC connectors.


Many peopleadd an eighth layer to the top of the OSI reference model, the political layer. Although used in jest, the term political layer is often accurate because all lower layers of the OSI reference model are encapsulated within the politics involved in the organizations that design a data network.

The Data Exchange Process

These seven layers all work together to provide a communications system. The communication occurs when a protocol on one system, which is located at a given layer of the model, communicates directly with its corresponding layer on another system. The application layer of a source system logically communicates with the application layer of the destination system. The presentation layer of the source system passes data to the presentation layer of the destination system. This communication occurs at each of the seven layers of the model.

This logical communication between corresponding layers of the protocol stack does not involve many different physical connections between the two communications systems. The information each protocol wants to send is encapsulated in the layer of protocol information beneath it. The encapsulation process produces a set of data called a packet.


Data encapsulation is the process in which the information in one protocol is wrapped, or contained, in the data section of another protocol. In the OSI reference model, each layer encapsulates the layer immediately above it as the data flows down the protocol stack.

Starting at the source, as shown in Figure 1-2, the application-specific data is encapsulated in the presentation layer information. To the presentation layer, the application data is generic data being presented. The presentation layer hands its data to the session layer, which attempts to keep the session synchronized. The session layer passes data to the transport layer, which transports the data from the source system to the destination system. The network layer adds routing and addressing information to the packet and passes it to the data link layer. The data link layer provides framing for the packet and the connection to the physical layer.

Figure 1-2. Data Flow from a Source Application to a Destination Application Through the Seven Layers of the OSI Reference Model


At Layer 1, as shown in the figure, the physical layer sends the data as bits across a medium, such as copper or fiber. The packet then traverses the destination network from Layer 1 to Layer 7. Each device along the way reads only the information necessary to get the data from the source to the destination. Each protocol de-encapsulates the packet data and reads the information sent by the corresponding layer on the source system.

As an example, consider what occurs when you open a Web page using a Web browser. Given a URL, such as, your browser asks the TCP to open a reliable connection to the Web server that is located at http: // (Many applications that use TCP skip the presentation and session layers, as we do in this example.) TCP then requests the network layer (IP) to route a packet from the source IP address to the destination IP address. The data link layer takes this IP packet and encapsulates it again for the particular type of data link leaving the source system, such as Ethernet. The physical layer carries the signal from the source system to the next system en route to the destination, such as a router.

The router de-encapsulates the data link layer; reads the network layer information; re-encapsulates the packet, if necessary, to place it on the next data link en route to the destination; and routes the packet appropriately.

This process continues until the packet reaches the destination IP address. At the destination IP address, the data link layer de-encapsulates the packet, sees that the destination IP address is the local system, and passes the data in the IP packet to the transport layer. The transport layer ensures the reliability of the connection and passes the data from your Web browser to the Web server. The Web server then responds to your Web browser request and sends a Web page of data back to your browser (using the same process, but with the source and destination IP addresses reversed ).

Cisco devices covered in this book operate at the physical, data link, and network layers of the OSI reference model and read information in these layers to carry data from one location to another. Throughout this book, we reference these layers and explain how the Cisco IOS uses the protocol information at each layer. Some Cisco devices, such as bridges and switches, operate at the data link layer. Other Cisco devices, such as routers, operate at the network layer, as shown in Figure 1-3. We describe the various types of internetworking devices in the next section.

Figure 1-3. An OSI Reference Model Depiction of Data That Travels from a Source Host,Through a Cisco Switch, Through a Cisco Router, and Then to a Destination Host


Cisco Router Configuration
Cisco Router Configuration (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 1578702410
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 1999
Pages: 116 © 2008-2017.
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