Data packets are units of information collected into one set for transmission through the Internet. Any bit of data that needs to be sent from one system to another must first be broken into smaller pieces to ease communication. Upon reaching the endpoint, these pieces get reassembled to become readable.

Data packets are used in Internet Protocol (IP)-based systems that communicate with one another over the Web. A data packet is also called a “block,” a “datagram,” or a “frame,” depending on the protocol used for its transmission.

To better understand what a data packet is, think of an image that you would like to send to a friend via iMessage. The image would be divided into small pieces before it gets sent, which happens in the background, of course. Your friend sees only the reassembled image afterward.


Read More about a “Data Packet”

data packet

One of the notable qualities of data packets is that the process of breaking them down and reassembling them happens within mere seconds.

What Is the Structure of a Data Packet?

A data packet commonly has two sections—the header and the payload. The header contains all information about the packet, including its origin and destination IP addresses. Packet headers tell receiving devices where they come from and how to process them.

Payloads contain the actual data being transmitted. When transmitting malware, the malicious code that a data packet contains is called “malware payload.” It’s still included in the data packet’s structure, but its purpose is to infect receiving devices with viruses, worms, and other harmful codes.

data packet structure

Depending on the protocol or method used to transmit data, some data packets may have a third section called the “packet trailer.” It’s a small piece of information that tells the receiving device that it has reached the end of the packet.

How Do Data Packets Work?

When you send a message, an image, a video, or any form of communication over a network, they are divided into smaller chunks called “data packets.” A packet may contain around 1,000–1,500 bytes of data, so the number of packets that make up a whole piece of data vary depending on its size. 

A 1GB video, for example, may be broken down into 1,000,000 packets. Each packet is numbered to make reassembling easy and accurate.

The packets travel through the Internet, often using different routes. However, they will all arrive at the same destination since the header contains the IP address of the receiving device.

Data Packets Transmission Elements

Data packet transmission involves several elements that include the following:

1. Bandwidth

Bandwidth refers to the size of the Internet pipeline available to a user. It dictates how much information that user can transmit at one time. For data packets, bandwidth refers to how many packets a user can fit in his/her available pipeline. In essence, the bigger the bandwidth, the more data packets it can fit, and the more efficient the transmission is.

2. Network Congestion

As the number of data packets passing through an Internet pipeline increases, the slower the transmission becomes. The slowdown could result from a small bandwidth or an artificial congestion on the part of an Internet service provider (ISP). A network congestion is comparable to a traffic jam that occurs when a considerable number of cars travel through a small road.

3. Packet Loss

A packet loss occurs when data gets lost during transmission. It can result from network congestion. Often, the effects are most notable for online gaming or voice over IP (VoIP) application users. In such cases, a user’s gameplay or quality of online conversations suffers.

4. Jitter

Jitters are irregular data packet transmissions over a network. When an irregularity in transmitting information occurs, confusion on both ends of the network happens. Network congestion and, eventually, packet loss can result from the presence of too much jitter.

5. Web Browser

A web browser is responsible for receiving packets and assembling them into web pages that visitors see. Ideally, a browser can process as much as eight data packets at one time. Available bandwidth affects how fast a page loads. In general, the more data packets a system can process, the faster the page loading time.

Aside from the concepts discussed above, there are other terms that you need to understand to grasp what data packets are better.

  • IP address: An IP address is a unique identifier assigned to each Internet-connected device.
  • Kilobyte: A kilobyte is a data measurement unit equivalent to 1,000 bytes.
  • Protocol: This refers to methods or sets of rules used in network communication. The structure and size of a data packet may depend on the protocol used. Common protocols include Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

Why Is It Important to Use Data Packets?

Data packet use ensures the reliable and efficient transfer of information. Rather than transmitting a huge file as a single data block, sending it as smaller packets improves transmission. The packets usually take the best route available to spread the data. That allows the information to flow freely or not get stuck or slowed down in a specific spot. Should a data packet encounter congestion due to tons of simultaneous transfers, the network can reroute packets to less congested pathways.

Data packet use is important, as it makes networks work faster. That way, users do not have to worry about their messages getting stuck on the way to intended recipients.

Given all these, it is easy to see why data packets are crucial for the proper transmission of information over the Internet—the more effective their transmission, the better the user experience.

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