TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols

W. Richard Stevens

Addison-Wesley 1994
A book review by Danny Yee © 1994
Stevens is well known for his books on Unix programming. In the first volume of TCP/IP Illustrated he deals with the specification and behaviour of the protocols that make up the TCP/IP suite. He begins at the bottom of the network stack, with the link layer protocols, and works his way upwards, dealing with IP, ARP, ICMP, routing, UDP, IGMP, DNS, TFTP, BOOTP, TCP, SNMP, telnet, FTP, SMTP and NFS (among others). Chapters on tools like ping and traceroute are included, and a tcpdump program is used throughout (on a real network) to allow us to actually watch the protocols in action on the wire; we are always kept in touch with what is happening at the link layer.

The focus is very much on how the protocols work in practice rather than on the theory behind them. So the discussion of RIP includes a detailed look at the protocol's behaviour on an example network, but only mentions the counting to infinity problem in passing, and ASN.1 is only given a brief description, since "the details of ASN.1 and BER are only important to implementors of SNMP". If you are primarily interested in the theory behind the algorithms and protocols then this will be frustrating, but if you are interested in the protocols from an practical perspective then it will be a welcome simplification.

TCP/IP Illustrated is not an introductory book: the treatment is more systematic than pedagogic and a fair amount of knowledge is assumed. (So, for example, SLIP and PPP are discussed in chapter two along with the other link layer protocols; this would probably be confusing to someone without much networking background.) This approach does make it easy to find things, however, and, together with a thorough index, enhances the volume's value as a reference. There are useful exercises at the end of each chapter, with solutions at the back, which make it suitable as a textbook for those who already have some acquaintance with networking.

For many years the standard introduction to TCP/IP protocols has been Comer's Internetworking with TCP/IP. While I certainly wouldn't suggest that that book has been superseded, since it has a rather different approach, TCP/IP Illustrated is definitely serious competition. Particularly attractive features of Stevens' book are its coverage of different Unix versions (BSD4.3, Sun, SVR4, Solaris, BSD4.4 and others), its consideration of what the protocols actually mean in terms of "packets on the wire" and its concentration on issues of practical importance. While beginners and those more interested in theoretical issues will probably prefer other books, for many people I think TCP/IP Illustrated would be the book of choice on TCP/IP.

June 1994

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- W. Richard Stevens - TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 2: The Implementation
- W. Richard Stevens - TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 3: TCP for Transactions, HTTP, NNTP, and the UNIX Domain Protocols
- books about networking
- books published by Addison-Wesley
%T TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1
%S The Protocols
%A Stevens, W. Richard
%I Addison-Wesley
%D 1994
%O hardcover, bibliography, appendices, index
%G ISBN 0201633469
%P xix,576pp