Packet loss occurs when one or more packets being transmitted across the network fail to arrive at the destination. This can cause significant problems, especially in some applications such as Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), where information lost cannot be recovered. In some cases, it may be possible to correct for the loss of packets and allow data to be reassembled as it was intended.
To understand packet loss, it is first necessary to know that information is sent over the Internet in packets. These packets contain all the information needed for the sending computer to communicate the desired information to the destination. In many cases, these packets arrive without any problems. When problems do occur, packet loss can take place. It is one of the most frustrating aspects of digital communications.
There are many different reasons for this problem. In some cases, the signal may degrade over time. In other cases, hardware problems could cause packet loss. Other reasons include networks that have too much demand and corrupted packets.
If packet loss takes place, computers may try to recover that information. Once a packet is received, the receiving computer sends a signal to the sending computer noting it has been received. If the sending computer does not receive a signal for each packet sent, it will resend any packets for which it does not receive a signal.
In most cases, it is not a problem to resend the packets, but there are applications where resending packets is not possible. For example, in some types of online gaming, the game depends heavily on time sequences that are constantly in motion. Resending a packet of lost information in such a case is impractical. This lack of data at certain points causes the game to "jump." The same is true with voice communication applications.
To some extent, packet loss can be prevented by prioritizing the type of packets that are to be sent. This is why many Internet service providers often give a higher level of importance to gaming and voice applications. Typical web browsing and downloading files are not quite as high in the priority list. This is because packet loss is not as critical for these applications.
Generally, there is not much the average computer user can do to avoid packet issues. If they are constantly happening on a local area network, such as in a business environment, contacting the company's or network's IT professional may offer some relief. The most computer users can do is make sure their hardware is in proper working condition.