Packet (information technology)

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In information technology, a packet is a formatted unit of data carried by a packet mode computer network. Computer communications links that do not support packets, such as traditional point-to-point telecommunications links, simply transmit data as a series of bytes, characters, or bits alone. When data is formatted into packets, the bitrate of the communication medium can be better shared among users than if the network were circuit switched. By using packet switched networking it is also harder to guarantee a lowest possible bitrate.

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Packet framing

A packet consists of two kinds of data: control information and user data (also known as payload). The control information provides data the network needs to deliver the user data, for example: source and destination addresses, error detection codes like checksums, and sequencing information. Typically, control information is found in packet headers and trailers, with user data in between.

Different communications protocols use different conventions for distinguishing between the elements and for formatting the data. In Binary Synchronous Transmission, the packet is formatted in 8-bit bytes, and special characters are used to delimit the different elements. Other protocols, like Ethernet, establish the start of the header and data elements by their location relative to the start of the packet. Some protocols format the information at a bit level instead of a byte level.

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