Packet switching is a means of digital communications in which all data transmitted across the network, regardless of file type, structure or content, are bundled together into individual blocks, or packets, prior to transmission. Individual packets can then be sent individually, and may even travel a different path to its destination before being reassembled on the receiving end.
Unlike circuit switching technology, which is found in traditional telephonic services and used when data must arrive in the same order in which it is sent, packet switching is ideal for data that can sustain some delays in its transmission, as is the case with email and web-based content.
While traversing a network, and passing through the network’s various switches, routers, adapters and other nodes, packet data can be queued and buffered, which results in variations in data throughput and response time depending on the network’s current load and overall capacity.
The basic concept of packet switching was first proposed for military communications applications in the 1960s and was first implemented on small computer networks in 1968. Decades later, packet switching developed into one of the Internet’s most essential networking technologies.