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TCP vs UDP: The Main Difference Between TCP and UDP

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol) are the most common protocols used in network device communication today. Understanding the fundamental differences between TCP and UDP is crucial for network engineers. Both protocols serve important roles, but their applications vary significantly based on the requirements for speed, reliability, and data integrity. In this blog, we delve into what TCP and UDP are, their advantages and disadvantages, use cases, and the key factors that set them apart.

What is the Difference Between UDP and TCP?

TCP and UDP constitute the backbone of network communications, each facilitating data transmission with distinct approaches. However, what is the major difference between TCP and UDP packets? TCP emphasizes reliable delivery, making it ideal for applications where accuracy is non-negotiable. On the flip side, UDP shines in scenarios where speed is more important than precision. This article will provide an in-depth look at both protocols to illuminate their differences.

What is TCP?

Developed as the first of the two, TCP is a connection-oriented protocol ensuring the reliable and accurate transfer of data between devices.

Advantages of TCP

  • Ensures guaranteed data delivery and sequence with its tracking and acknowledgment system.
  • Automatically corrects errors by resending or fixing lost or corrupted packets.

Disadvantages of TCP

  • Ensuring reliability introduces overhead, which makes TCP slower compared to UDP.

Use cases of TCP

Because of its reliability, TCP is used in applications where data integrity is crucial, such as file transfers, emails, web browsing, and secure transactions that involve sensitive financial data. For example, when financial information is transferred between devices, the application cannot provide incorrect account balances to customers, or the entire business would be compromised.

What is UDP?

UDP is a connectionless protocol, prioritizing speed and efficiency over the guaranteed accuracy of data packets.

Advantages of UDP

  • Provides faster data transmission because it doesn’t use a handshake or error correction processes.
  • Facilitates broadcast traffic without requiring acknowledgments from the receivers.

Disadvantages of UDP

  • Does not guarantee that data packets will arrive in the correct order or intact

Use cases of UDP

Suitable for applications where speed is essential and minor data loss is acceptable, such as VoIP, audio and video streaming, video conferencing, and gaming. For example, if a few packets are lost during a phone conversation, the conversation is still intelligible.

Main Differences between TCP and UDP: Table Summary

The table below summarizes the primary distinctions between TCP and UDP:

FactorTCPUDP
Guarantees frame deliveryYesNo
Acknowledgment usedYesNo
ConnectionlessNoYes
Used when fast transmissions are requiredNoYes
Common TCP and UDP portsDNS, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMTP, TelnetDNS, DHCP, TFTP, SNMP, RIP, VOIP

Conclusion

In summary, the major difference between TCP and UDP lies in their approach towards data transmission. TCP, being connection-oriented, ensures that all data packets are delivered accurately and in order, which is vital for applications like web browsing and email. Conversely, UDP is designed for speed, sacrificing reliability for applications where a few lost packets won’t disrupt the overall experience, such as streaming and gaming. Understanding these distinctions is essential for network engineers who need to optimize network performance and reliability according to the requirements of different applications.

Author Bio –
Product Manager – Wireless

Julio Petrovitch is a product manager at NetAlly, plus a certified CWNA/CWAP/CWDP/CWSP. He’s worked with network design, testing and validation for more than 15 years. Throughout he’s career he has had the opportunity to work with multiple networking technologies, including POTS, DSL, Copper/Fiber Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and BLE.