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Network processor

(also NPU, network processor unit)

Network processor definition

A network processor (NPU) is an integrated circuit with a feature set specifically targeted at the networking application domain. In its essence, the network processor is to the network what the central processing unit is to the computer. Network processors are most often software-programmable devices that handle various tasks related to network data processing, such as packet inspection, routing, switching, traffic management, and security functions like encryption and intrusion detection. They are applied in networking devices, such as routers, switches, firewalls, and network interface cards.

See also: network interface card, firewall

Functions of a network processor

  • Pattern recognition. Network processors analyze and identify recurring symbol sequences within a data stream. In networking, this refers to uncovering specific patterns of bits or bytes within a packet stream and using them for specific purposes, such as packet inspection, traffic classification, and intrusion detection.
  • Queue management. The network processor receives data packets that it then processes, analyzes, and places in specific queue spots. That way, the processor automatically prevents the buffer from getting full, leading to better overall performance and lower network congestion.
  • Data bit field manipulation. The network processor adjusts and changes specific data fields from the packet during processing, streamlining network operations and making the entire network much more efficient.
  • Quick reallocation of packet buffers. Packet buffers are memory pieces reserved for temporarily storing incoming and outgoing packets. Network processors quickly allocate and reallocate packet buffers so that there is no obstruction to the data transmission process.
  • Security and encryption. Network processors can perform security-related tasks such as data encryption and decryption and detect and prevent unauthorized access, intrusions, and other security threats. It ensures data integrity, confidentiality, and availability on the network.