A network protocol is a standard that details formats and sequences for use in transferring data. These protocols may be proprietary systems or standards defined by public bodies or industry associations. They may be secret ("closed") or public ("open").
A protocol is a reference ensuring that all programs are written following the same format. It would be pointless to write a communications program in which the programmer invents his own series of codes and messages. Such a program would be unable to interact with any other. The program receiving the output of this original program would be unable to decipher the messages. For this reason, whether the protocol is proprietary or public, all programs must follow common standards.
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A number of U.N. agencies are tasked with maintaining protocol definitions. These groups include the Internet Engineering Task Force and the International Standards Organization. Industry bodies also maintain standards. These bodies are user and producer groups for a particular technology. Examples of these are the Open Mobile Alliance, for wireless technology, and the Blade Computing Community, which disseminates standards for blade servers.
Networking is a field that particularly requires common protocols. Software and hardware producers need to ensure their products are compatible with each other. Open standards encourage diversity of production, which drives competition, lowers prices and generates innovation.