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Packet Switching

The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

- John Gilmore, cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, earliest reference, 1993-12-3.

What is packet switching? Like the development of hypertext, packet switching is an idea that seems to want to have been discovered, found independently within a few years by two different people separated by one of the earth's largest oceans. The revolutionary concept formed the foundation for the design of the ARPANET, and then the Internet Protocol, providing the key enabling technology that has led to the success of the Internet today.

The packet switching concept was a radical paradigm shift from the prevailing model of communications networks using dedicated, analog circuits primarily built for audio communications, and established a new model of discontinuous, digital systems that break messages into individual packets that are transmitted independently and then assembled back into the original message at the far end.

The conceptual breakthrough advantage of packet switching was "enabling more with less" through packet-level multi-tasking -- routing multiple communications over the same wire at the same time -- enabling the construction of data networks at much lower cost with greater throughput, flexibility, and robustness. The following sections provide more information.


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