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What Is the Difference Between a Socket and a Port?

A router with a cord plugged into the WAN port.
A port allows peripheral devices to connect with a computer via a cord.
Since 2010, many new computers have included USB 3.0 ports.
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  • Written By: Alex Newth
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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A socket and a port are similar virtual objects within a computer network that work with one another to establish a connection. A port functions like a telephone number, identifying the machine and giving the socket an area to connect, while the socket functions like a cord that ties the computers together. This is the definition of a socket and a port on the software side but, on the hardware side, the port has another definition. A hardware port is a plug with which peripheral devices, such as a mouse or printer, connect with the computer via a cord.

Computers make connections all the time. When someone checks email, goes on the Internet, downloads from a peer-to-peer (P2P) program, or performs any of a variety of other functions, a connection from one computer to another must be formed. Servers and computers typically have a port. The port has a number attached to it, based on its function, and acts much like a phone number. To connect with a server, the computer or the user often needs to know the port number to attach to the computer.

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While knowing the port will help make a connection, both a socket and a port are needed to actually tie the computers together. When children make simple phones, they use two plastic cups and a string. The plastic cups are like the two ports on the computers, and the string is like the socket. Just like the string, the socket is bidirectional, so both computers speak and listen to each other simultaneously.

The main differences between a socket and a port are function and location. A port is always on a computer and acts like a docking station. It has its own location and is stationary. A socket does not have a number and moves around, connecting computers and then severing when the connection is finished. A port is only capable of listening, while the socket is able to make both computers hear each other.

Another difference between a socket and a port is that a socket is only software related, while a port has both a software and hardware definition. On the hardware side, a port is used to connect other devices to the computer. When a user connects a mouse to his or her computer, a wire is docked into a port, and the electronic connection is established. Most ports use universal serial bus (USB) technology and are female, but there are rare instances of male computer ports.

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