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Packet switch

foundation of the internet London,

Donald Davies sits in front of a blackboard while holding a book. A computer is just visible at the left edge of the image.
Computer researcher Donald Davies. Courtesy of the National Physical Laboratory.

Packet switching is the process by which all data (regardless of content, type or structure) is broken into suitable blocks or ‘packets’ and transmitted across a network, such as the internet. Each packet travels separately and can take an alternative route to a destination. If one direction is blocked the packet can take an alternative path or be resent. Packet switching allows the efficient exchange of information between computers, making modern computer communications both functional and robust.

In the early 1960s several researchers, such as Paul Baran (1926-2011) in the US and Donald Davies (1924-2000) in the UK, independently proposed ways of sending data with the concept of packet switching. Davies, the then Laboratory Superintendent at the National Physical Laboratory, was interested in ways to make computers more accessible and exploring new types of computer networks. When he published a paper on ‘packet switching’ the name stuck, and the process became an essential method of transmission for our communications today. In this way, Davies became a father of the internet.

Science Museum

National Physical Laboratory, Teddington
Key Individuals
Donald Davies,