Packet Loss Definition

Packet loss is the discarding of packets in a network when a router or other network device is overloaded and cannot accept additional packets at a given moment.

Packets are the fundamental unit of information transport in all modern computer networks, and increasingly in other communications networks as well.

The losses are usually due to congestion on the network and buffer overflows on the end-systems. A buffer is a portion of a computer's memory that is set aside as a temporary holding place for data that is being sent to or received from an external device. A buffer overflow occurs any time more information is written into the buffer than there is space allocated for it in the memory.

Packet loss may or may not be disruptive to the recipient of the data, depending on the type of network service and the severity of the loss. With best effort services, packet loss is acceptable because recovery of the lost packets is handled by other services.

Created November 1, 2005.
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