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Packet buffer

Packet buffer definition

A packet buffer is a temporary storage area for data packets in a computer or network device. It holds packets of information as they move between different parts of a network or when there's a difference in the speed at which data is sent and received. Packet buffers play an important role in preventing network congestion.

How packet buffers work

  • When data packets arrive at a network device (like a router), they may not all be processed immediately. This can happen because packets may arrive at different speeds or need to go to different destinations.
  • Instead of processing each packet immediately, the device places them in a packet buffer.
  • The packet buffer manages the incoming packets in a first-in, first-out order — the first packet to arrive is the first to be processed, and so on.
  • If the device needs to send packets to different destinations, the buffer can hold packets in separate queues for each path or destination.
  • As the device's processing capacity becomes available or as the network conditions permit, packets are retrieved from the buffer and processed.
  • In some cases, packet buffers are also used for flow control. If a network device senses congestion downstream, it can temporarily stop accepting new packets and avoid overwhelming the network.