Flow (computer networking)
Packet Switchingnetwork, a packet flow or traffic flow is a sequence of packets from one particular source (e.g. a computerhost, process or class of service) to a single destination (another computerhost, multicastgroup, broadcastdomain, process, or class of service). As they are sent over successive data links towards their destination, the packets from one flow (e.g. A1, A2, A3) will be intermingled with packets from other flows also traversing the network to form a multiplexed stream (e.g. A1, B7, C9, A2, C10, A3), a form of statistical multiplexingsince the link is shared as required.
Data flow can be conceptualized similar to the water flow model used to conceptualize electrical flow in
circuit theory. Channels can be thought of as pipes, with packets being small objects inserted into the water stream. This visualization can help to understand bottlenecks, queuing, and help understand the unique requirements of tailored systems.
Utility for network administration
The concept is important, since it may be that packets from one flow need to be handled differently from others, by means of separate queues in switches,
routersand network adapters, to achieve traffic shaping, fair queueingor Quality of Service. It is also a concept used in network analysers or packet tracing.
Applied to Internet routers, a flow may be a host-to-host communication path, or a socket-to-socket communication identified by a unique combination of source and destination addresses and port numbers, together with transport protocol (either UDP or TCP). In the TCP case, a flow may be a
virtual circuit, also known as a virtual connectionor a byte stream.
In packet switches, the flow may be identified by
IEEE 802.1QVirtual LAN tagging in Ethernet networks, or by a Label Switched Pathin MPLStag switching .
Flow networkin graph theory
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