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APIs and the Application Layer

An Application Programming Interface (API) is a predefined collection of functions that a program can use to access other parts of the operating environment. Programs use API functions to communicate with the operating system. A network protocol stack is a classic application of the API concept. As is shown in Figure 7.4, a network API provides an interface from the application to the protocol stack. The application program uses functions from the API to open and close connections and write or read data to the network.

Figure 7.4. A network API enables an application to access the network through TCP/IP.

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The Sockets API was originally developed for BSD Unix as an interface for applications to access the TCP/IP protocol stack. Sockets is now used widely on other systems as a program interface for TCP/IP. Several years ago, Microsoft created a version of the Sockets interface called WinSock. In Windows 3.1 and earlier, the user had to install and configure an implementation of WinSock to set up TCP/IP networking. Starting with Windows 95, Microsoft built a TCP/IP program interface directly into the Windows operating system.

Network APIs such as the Sockets API receive data through a socket (see Hour 6) and pass that data to the application. These APIs therefore are operating at the Application layer.

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