A handshaking protocol is the method by which two computers on a network establish a connection using some kind of networking tool. Each kind of network connection, such as a request from a Web browser to a Web server, or a file-sharing connection between two peer computers, has its own handshaking protocol that must be completed before completing the action requested by the user.
A handshaking protocol defines the method by which data is expected to be received, the content of the initial data sent and the parameters of the response. A handshake can be a single-query-response step, or it can be many such steps. A ping from one computer to another sends a single Internet packet and responds with another single packet; as this is the simplest possible handshake, it is often used to test basic network connections. On the other hand, a virtual private network connection request will have many handshaking steps as the VPN may verify the incoming IP address of the request, the user name and password and the requested access; meanwhile, the sending computer will evaluate the integrity of the VPN's security certificate.
Handshaking protocols are as old as computer networks and are used in nearly every network connection (except those network methods, such as user datagram protocol, that are designed to be used without one). Many people were first exposed to the concept of a handshake with dial-up computer modems and fax machines; the distinctive sounds they made when connecting were an audible representation of the modem handshake.
Nearly every Internet connection requires an invisible handshaking method before sending the actual data requested; a initial request for a Web page includes a hypertext transfer protocol handshake, which is conducted invisibly between the browser and the Web server. Fast and efficient handshaking protocols are important for any server that is expected to handle a heavy load.
There are hundreds of handshaking protocols in regular use and no limit to the number of handshaking methods that can be theoretically devised. Examples of handshaking in common use on the Internet--as well as many theoretical methods that are obsolete or unimplemented--can be found by searching for "handshake" in the Internet RFC Archives.
Handshaking is designed to be a quick prelude to other network activity; most Internet handshaking protocols are designed to be dispatched in nanoseconds of computer CPU time and within milliseconds of network time.
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