data link layer

What is the data link layer?

The data link layer is the protocol layer in a program that handles the moving of data into and out of a physical link in a network. The data link layer is Layer 2 in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) architecture model for a set of telecommunication protocols.

Data bits are encoded, decoded and organized in the data link layer, before they are transported as frames between two adjacent nodes on the same LAN or WAN. The data link layer also determines how devices recover from collisions that may occur when nodes attempt to send frames at the same time.

The data link layer has two sublayers: the logical link control (LLC) sublayer and the media access control (MAC) sublayer.

As described by the IEEE 802 LAN specification, the role of the LLC sublayer is to control data flow among various applications and services, as well as provide acknowledgement and error notification mechanisms. The LLC sublayer can then talk to a number of IEEE 802 MAC sublayers, which control access to the physical media for transport. It is also responsible for the physical addressing of frames.

Two common MAC layer types include Ethernet and 802.11 wireless specifications.

Functions of the data link layer

The data link layer has three main functions:

  • It handles problems that occur as a result of bit transmission errors.
  • It ensures data flows at a pace that doesn't overwhelm sending and receiving devices.
  • It permits the transmission of data to Layer 3, the network layer, where it is addressed and routed.
data link layer in OSI model
The data link layer in the OSI model

Data link layer and error detection

The data link layer ensures an initial connection has been set up, divides output data into data frames and handles the acknowledgements from a receiver that the data arrived successfully. It also ensures incoming data has been received successfully by analyzing bit patterns at special places in the frames.

If an error occurs, the data link layer notifies higher-level protocols that something has happened to the physical link. Frame sequencing capabilities within the data link layer permit the receiving device to reorder frames that might have been transmitted out of sequence. The data link layer verifies the packet is unimpaired.

The data link layer also manages flows by enabling devices on a link to detect congestion. Nearby devices then transmit congestion information, so traffic can be rerouted accordingly.

data link layer error detection
A single bit error as detected by the data link layer

This was last updated in October 2021

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