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Ports are logical numbers used by TCP/IP to identify what service or application should handle data received by a system.
Port forwarding via NAT router (above)
At any moment, a computer could be receiving dozens of packets. Each of these packets includes a destination IP address and a destination port. TCP/IP uses the IP address to get the packet to the computer. The computer then uses the port number to get the packet to the correct service, protocol, or application that can process it.
For example, if the packet has a destination port of 80 (the well-known port for HTTP), the system passes the packet to the process handling HTTP. It wouldn’t do much good to pass an SMTP email packet to the HTTP service or send an HTTP request packet to the SMTP service.
Different protocols are enabled and running on a server. These protocols have well-known or registered port numbers, such as port 22 for SSH, 23 for Telnet, 80 for HTTP, 443 for HTTPS, and so on. When the system receives traffic with a destination of port 80, the system knows to send it to the service handling HTTP.
Any web browser knows that the well-known port for HTTP is 80. Even though you don’t see port 80 in the URL, it is implied as http://GetCertifiedGetAhead.com:80. If you omit the port number, HTTP uses the well-known port number of 80 by default.
TCP/IP works with the client operating system to maintain a table of client-side ports. This table associates port numbers with different applications that are expecting return traffic. Client-side ports start at port 49,152 and increment up to 65,535. If the system uses all the ports between 49,152 and 65,535 before being rebooted, it’ll start over at 49,152.
When you use your web browser to request a page from a site, your system will record an unused client port number such as 49,152 in an internal table to handle the return traffic. When the web server returns the web page, it includes the client port as a destination port. When the client receives web page packets with a destination port of 49,152, it sends these packets to the web browser application. The browser processes the packets and displays the page.