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What is a Presentation Layer?

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  • Written By: Troy Holmes
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The computer networking framework is made up of seven distinctive layers. These layers have been well defined by the open standards interconnection model (OSI). The presentation layer represents layer six within the OSI model. It is the network layer that is responsible for transforming messages into an understandable format for computers on a network.

Computer networks are responsible for connecting computers and hardware through telecommunication devices. This spider web of connectivity requires a translation service that can transform messages into an understandable format for each type of device. The presentation layer translates messages into multiple formats to support multiple devices. This translation service enables a laptop computer to seamlessly communicate with a smart phone on a single computer network.

The presentation layer is also responsible for encrypting and decrypting information from computer devices. This layer must send and receive messages from multiple specifications and route them through the network. Computer encryption typically depends on internal specifications for the organization. The security process is managed within this layer of the OSI network stack.

Network performance is often burdened by large data messages that are transmitted across the network. The presentation layer can improve performance by using special compression processes. This requires algorithms that can be used to shrink the size of messages sent over a network, which will increase throughput and performance. The presentation layer of the network model is responsible for all compression and decompression algorithms and processes.

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Many people confuse the presentation layer with an application screen implementation. This is because the term presentation is typically synonymous with screen design in most information technology discussions. Within the network architecture, the presentation layer is basically connected with message format presentation and is not related to screen design

The technical implementation of specific tasks in the presentation layer can be implemented in the application layer of the OSI model. This is because many commercial products have bundled the network tasks of layer six and seven into one implementation. Additionally, many of the tasks performed at the presentation layer are unnecessary for most messages transmitted over a network.

A good example of this layer in a practical application is the hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS). HTTPS is an encrypted protocol that is typically used on the Internet. While HTTPS is considered an application layer interface, it interacts directly with the this layer for encryption algorithms. This is because the presentation layer is responsible for deciphering the encrypted network messages.

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