What's YOUR favorite protocol?

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Yesterday’s trip down memory lane with the Gopher protocol got me thinking about all the other protocols I used to use, and those that I continue to use on a regular basis. There’s little doubt that hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) is one of the most widely used protocols on the Internet today. But there are a host of other protocols used every day! Let’s look at a few of my current favorites, and some that have gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Before I get started, I think we should break out protocols that one uses intentionally, and those ancillary protocols that get used in the normal execution of your other protocols. For example, every time I visit a web page I intentionally use the HTTP protocol. But unless I’m manually keying in IP addresses, there’s an awful lot of DNS traffic taking place, too. I don’t intentionally use the DNS protocol: it happens behind the scenes as I’m using my web browser. So with that out of the way, here are the protocols I intentionally choose to use on a regular basis:

No surprise here. I write for CrunchGear, so I use HTTP (TCP port 80) to access the WordPress back-end to compose stories. I visit product web pages. I watch videos at YouTube and Hulu. I compose email at GMail. HTTP is the king of protocols.

As a systems administrator, I use the Secure Shell protocol (TCP port 22) daily to access the variety of Linux systems I maintain. Whether for my day job, or my personal web server, I’d be dead in the water without SSH. I also use SSH as a SOCKS proxy so that I can access a variety of resources using my home IP address. This is particularly useful when I’m using an untrusted wireless network: the link from my laptop to my proxy server is encrypted, shielding my traffic from anyone snooping that wireless network.

I use Internet Relay Chat to communicate and collaborate on a number of projects. It’s also a terrific way to get ad hoc support on open source programs that I use. I’m usually idling in one or two channels. I prefer IRC over IM, usually, but can’t really give a good explanation as to why.

As a Linux user, I use the X Window protocol all the time. Sometimes it’s to display applications running on my local machine; and sometimes it’s to display applications running from one of the server I maintain.

Some of the lesser used, but still important, protocols I use include

  • DNS: as mentioned above, the Domain Name System is a supporting protocol that makes our use of the Internet vastly easier. It’s really the backbone of the modern Internet, if you think about it. It uses TCP and UDP ports 53.
  • SMTP: like DNS, Simple Mail Transport Protocol is one of those things that keeps the Internet alive without being in-your-face all the time. Every time you send an email — whether you use Thunderbird, or Outlook, or GMail, or Hotmail — the messages travel back and forth using SMTP. It uses TCP port 25.
  • ICMP: the Internet Control Message Protocol is one of those protocols people use without even thinking about it. Every time you ping a host to see if your Internet connection is working, you’re using ICMP.
  • BitTorrent: I don’t use it too much, but I know a lot of people who do. BitTorrent easily accounts for a large percentage of daily Internet traffic today.
  • FTP: the File Transfer Protocol is still heavily used today. Downloading drivers and patches is the dominant use, but it’s still a handy tool for getting any kind of file transferred.
  • Telnet is something I still use when I must, though I try hard to avoid it since it has basically no security at all. I use telnet to manage some Ethernet switches at my day job.
  • NNTP, the Network News Transfer Protocol, is used for accessing Usenet. I’ve never dipped my toes into the dark waters of Usenet, though John and Nicholas have. I envy their bravery.

But these are all modern — or at least currently utilized — protocols. What about the stuff from yesteryear? As I mentioned in my Gopher post yesterday, I started using the Internet by way of a SLIP, and later PPP, connection. Prior to accessing the Internet, I was using Bulletin Board Systems, which had their own suite of protocols:

  • ZMODEM was the very first piece of software I ever bought. I paid for a license for the shareware file transfer protocol so that I could download files from the various BBSes faster.
  • Before ZMODEM, I was using XMODEM to download files. Surprisingly, I still occasionally use XMODEM to transfer switch firmware to an Ethernet switch I manage!
  • A dabbled with BiModem for a bit, in order to streamline the simultaneous sending and receiving of files.
  • FidoNet is one of those supporting protocols from which I benefited, but never really used directly. It allowed the BBSes I used to communicate with other BBSes, thereby increasing the number of people with whom I could connect. I spent most of my time on systems running WWIV, which had it’s own protocol for inter-board communication called WWIVnet.

So how about you? What protocols do you use regularly? Which protocols from days of yore do you miss?

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