TCP/IP — Explanation for Grandma

Also published on Medium

TCP/IP — This is such an everyday technology that even folks who aren’t technical have probably heard these acronyms.

I aim to explain what TCP/IP is and why it’s essential. Also, this was vetted with grandma, and she got it! She is also very sharp but didn’t have in-depth knowledge TCP/IP. (Thanks, Lynda!)

So, first of all, break them apart into TCP and IP. They are commonly joined like two brothers going into battle because they are essential rules that allow computers to talk to each other over the internet.

So what are “TCP” and “IP”? Let’s start with what they stand for.

TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol

IP stands for Internet Protocol

Both these things are protocols, and a protocol is just a set of rules everyone agrees on around the world.

So let’s start with the IP address. A good analogy to understand this is comparing it to someone’s phone number.

For example, when you need to dial a phone number, you know to put a specific set of numbers together to reach the person you want to speak with. For example, if you are dialing outside of the country, you may dial the number by breaking it down like this.

<your country’s exit code> + <country code> + <area code> + <7-digit local phone number>

So if you were in Japan and wanted to call me in California on my cell number, 123–4567, with a 310 area code, you would dial 010–1–310–123–4567. (Reppin 310!)

This type of dialing process will work in almost every country in the world because everyone has agreed to this phone number protocol.

Computers also have addresses, just like phones, which are just 12 numbers. So even shorter! These are IP addresses, and they look something like


If you tell your computer to send a message to 123.456.789.123, your computer will be able to pass this to the internet, and the message will get to 123.456.789.123. Every other computer will know how to read this address because every computer in the world has agreed to use this protocol. And that’s all an IP address is.

Now the “TCP” is another set of rules. These rules let computers have a conversation with each other. So let’s look at our phone call analogy again. We have the phone numbers we want to dial, but what happens after we type the phone number into our phone?

Your call would then be routed through various phone companies, wires, and even satellites. Then once connected to the person at the number you dialed, you can have a seamless conversation once the connection is made. This process of connecting and passing your voices back and forth can be thought of like TCP.

TCP are the rules that connect computers to have seamless conversations. And again, everyone in the world has agreed on how TCP works, so your computer can easily have a conversation with another computer in Japan or a computer next door.

So to recap

  • IP addresses are like unique phone numbers but for computers.
  • TCP is like the process of connecting to a particular phone number, but also for computers.
  • When you combine TCP/IP, it’s like creating a phone system where you can speak with anyone in the world — but for computers.
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