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A.2 The OSI Reference Model

In order to understand the differences between the various network technologies, you need to be able to compare them side-by-side. The OSI Reference Model is the tool most commonly used for this purpose.

The OSI Reference Model is a simplistic breakdown of networking functions, from the physical wiring up to the applications that take specific advantage of the network. By using seven "layers" to identify the various functions provided by a network, the OSI Reference Model is flexible enough to accommodate most of the popular network services currently in use.

Each layer within the OSI Reference Model has a very specific function, and each layer depends on the other layers in order for the entire model to function properly. Each layer only communicates with the layers above or below it. If there is a problem at one layer, it is the responsibility of that specific layer to provide feedback to the layers surrounding it.

Not all networking technologies have seven layers, nor do they all match up to the seven layers in the OSI Reference Model exactly. Most of them do not match it except in small, specific ways, although all of them can be compared to the model with a little bit of thought. This flexibility is what makes it such a popular tool.

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