Friday, October 7, 2011

The first use of the term "protocol" in networking...

I'm just reading the book Where wizards stay up late - The origins of the Internet and in there I found a statement about the first use of the term protocol to denote the rules to be followed in order for computers to be able to exchange information, i.e. to communicate.

Everything happened in 1965 when Tom Marill, psychologist by formal education, proposed to ARPA an experiment of connecting two machines, TX-2 from Lincoln laboratory at MIT and SDC Q-32 in Santa Monica. Marril founded a company within which he started that experiment but investor backed out and thus Marril turned to ARPA. ARPA agreed to finance experiment, but since Marril's company (Computer Corporation of America - CCA) was too small ARPA also suggested that Lincoln laboratory heads the project. This was accepted and for a project head was appointed Larry Roberts, another Internet pioneer. For the connection itself, a rather primitive modem was used that was able to send 2000 b/s via four-wire full-duplex service leased from Western Union. Marill set up a procedure that composed messages from characters, sent them to other machine and checked if the messages arrived (i.e. waiting for acknowledge). If there was no acknowledge, the message was retransmitted. The set of procedures for sending messages was referred as "message protocol" by Merill, and that is, as far as I know, the first use of that word in such a context. What's interesting is that a colleague apparently asked Marill why he was using that word because it reminds him of diplomacy. Today, word protocol is standard word to denote mechanisms and rules used by computers in order to be able to exchange data.

Anyway, if you know for some earlier use of this word, or more details about this first protocol I would be very interested to here it.

Finally, let me say that the book Where wizards stay up late - The origins of the Internet is a great book about Internet and how it was created. This book is targeted to a less technically knowledgeable people and I strongly recommend it. You can buy one on Amazon, but there are also other services specialize for selling used books, like e.g. AbeBooks. Maybe I'll talk a bit more about that book in some later post.

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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)

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