What Is a Computer Protocol?

How protocols affect web surfing

Address bar of a web browser, close up view

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A computer protocol is a set of invisible rules that govern how an internet document gets transmitted to your screen. These dozens of programmatic rules work in the background in the same way a bank employs staff procedures to keep your money safe.

A document's internet protocol is described by the first several letters in your browser's address bar, ending in "://." The most common protocol is http:// for a regular hypertext page, followed by https://, which governs hypertext pages that are secured against hackers. Examples of internet computer protocols include:

  • http Hypertext Transfer Protocol
  • https Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secured
  • TCP/IP Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol
  • ftp File Transfer Protocol
  • IMAP Internet Message Access Protocol
  • POP Post Office Protocol
  • SMTP Simple Mail Transfer Protocol
  • telnet Terminal Network protocol
  • UDP User Datagram Protocol
  • nntp Network News Transfer Protocol
  • MAC Media Access Control protocol
  • DNS Domain Name System protocol
  • DHCP Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol

How Computer Protocols Affect Web Surfing

Although computer protocols can be cryptic and technical for programmers and administrators, protocols are really just FYI knowledge for most users. As long as you are aware of the http and https at the beginning of the address and can type the correct address after ://, then computer protocols should be nothing more than a curiosity in your daily online life.