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(also unwrapping or de-encapsulation)

Decapsulation definition

Decapsulation, also known as unwrapping or de-encapsulation, is a process in network protocols where a device, such as a router or a switch, removes headers or trailers from a data packet to reveal the actual data payload. The process happens during data transmission as part of routing the data to its intended destination. This action plays a critical role in layered network models, notably the OSI and TCP/IP models.

See also: firewall, cryptographic key, generic routing encapsulation, data link layer, data packet

Decapsulation examples

  • Routing: When a router receives a packet, it performs decapsulation to extract the necessary information to direct the packet to its next destination.
  • Transport Layer Security (TLS): Decapsulation happens when a server receives an encrypted request. The server decapsulates the encrypted data, reads the request, processes it, and then re-encapsulates the response.

Advantages and disadvantages of decapsulation


  • Efficient data routing: Decapsulation aids in processing and routing packets correctly in the network.
  • Protocol interoperability: It allows different layers of the network to understand and handle data packets without needing to interpret all the details of the packet’s data.


  • Processing time: Each encapsulation and decapsulation process takes time, which can cause a delay in data transmission.
  • Security concerns: Decapsulation can potentially expose data to threats if it occurs in unsecured devices or networks.

Tips for understanding decapsulation

  • Decapsulation is part of a paired process with encapsulation. Understanding one helps understand the other.
  • Remember that decapsulation is a layer-by-layer process in models like the OSI and TCP/IP models, happening at each step of the data’s journey.