TCP vs. ICMP: What’s the difference?

Transport control protocol (TCP) and internet control message protocol (ICMP) are two communication protocols used for the transport of data between sender and receiver in a network. These two protocols work behind the scenes to ensure your online experience is seamless.

In this post, we will walk you through the differences between TCP and ICMP, highlighting the role of each protocol in ensuring data delivery and also highlighting their major differences.

Overview of TCP

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is a transport layer communication protocol that ensures the reliable delivery of data.

Imagine you’re sending a letter via snail mail. TCP is like that diligent postal worker who not only delivers your letter but also makes sure it arrives intact.

It divides your message into smaller, manageable chunks, sends them off, and patiently waits for confirmation from the recipient. If a chunk goes missing or gets damaged, TCP ensures a replacement is retransmitted.

This reliability in communication makes TCP the number one go-to choice for crucial tasks like file transfers and web page loading.

Overview of the ICMP

Internet control message protocol (ICMP) is a network layer communication protocol used for accessing network performance and reporting errors in the path of traffic transport.

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ICMP doesn’t transport your data like TCP; instead, it’s the messenger behind the scenes, delivering critical messages about the network’s health.

Think of ICMP as a network observer that quietly observes and reports irregularities. When a network issue arises, ICMP sends diagnostic messages, allowing devices to communicate about problems like unreachable destinations or time-to-live (TTL) expiration.

TCP and ICMP: How They Collaborate

TCP and ICMP may seem like contracting protocols, but they often collaborate to ensure a smooth online experience.

Here is a scenario where TCP and ICMP work in collaboration.

When you are streaming your favorite videos on YouTube, TCP handles the reliable delivery of video data, while ICMP quietly informs routers along the way about any congestion or issues.

Your smooth video streaming experience is the harmonious work of both the TCP and ICMP protocols, each playing a unique role.

TCP vs. ICMP: Major Application

TCP is used in applications where conversation flow is crucial. like in chat applications and other sensitive data exchange systems.

For instance, when you’re chatting with a friend via instant messaging, TCP ensures that your messages are delivered in the correct order. It establishes a connection, manages data flow, and guarantees that your words reach your friend intact.

On the other hand, ICMP is used to alert for errors in the communication channel.

Let’s say you’re attempting to reach a website, but it seems unreachable. It is ICMP that sends a discrete message back, notifying your device that the destination is off-limits.

ICMP doesn’t engage in lengthy conversations; instead, it’s the messenger that quickly conveys critical information, keeping the network’s health in check.

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TCP vs. ICMP: Key Differences

Here are the major ways in which TCP differs from ICMP:

  1. Connection Nature: TCP is connection-oriented, maintaining a persistent connection until data delivery is completed, while ICMP is connectionless, establishing no ongoing connection, making it ideal for diagnostic purposes just needing instant and brief communication.
  2. Port Targeting: TCP targets a specific port depending on the type of traffic (HTTP uses port 80 for example), while ICMP does not target specific ports when transmitting to the receiver.
  3. Error Feedback: TCP relies on ICMP to provide error feedback (error control) to the transmitter, while ICMP itself excels as an error control protocol.
  4. Application Focus: TCP is primarily used for essential traffic like FTP, SMTP, HTTPS, and Telnet, which needs reliable and ordered data delivery, while ICMP is utilized for testing purposes such as ping for network performance assessment and traceroute to track traffic paths from sender to receiver.
  5. Latency Dynamics: TCP exhibits higher latency due to the 3-way handshake and feedback mechanism, emphasizing reliability over speed, while ICMP boasts lower latency, making it suitable for quick diagnostic assessments without the overhead of prolonged handshakes.
  6. Reliability Factor: TCP is known for its reliability, ensuring all packets are delivered in order, even if it comes at the cost of higher latency, while ICMP prioritizes quick diagnostics over ordered delivery, making it less reliable for transmitting real traffic.
  7. Security Implications: TCP is generally considered more secure, safeguarding data integrity, even though it is at a higher cost. ICMP is vulnerable to misuse by hackers for network performance disruption, making it less inherently secure than TCP.


Is ping TCP or ICMP?

Ping primarily uses ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) for network diagnostics, not TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).

Is ICMP a TCP/IP protocol?

No, ICMP is not a TCP/IP protocol itself. ICMP operates alongside TCP/IP and is utilized for network troubleshooting and diagnostics.

What is the exact difference between ICMP and TCP?

ICMP is a connectionless protocol used for network diagnostics, while TCP is a connection-oriented protocol facilitating reliable data transfer. They serve different purposes in the realm of network communication.

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Does TCP use ICMP?

Yes, TCP may use ICMP for error feedback. ICMP provides information about issues in data delivery, and TCP relies on this feedback mechanism for efficient error control in network communication.


While TCP is a different protocol from ICMP, it works hand in hand in many applications to ensure the successful delivery of data in a network.

Transmission control protocols focus more on ensuring that data is transmitted successfully and in the right order, while Internet control protocols help to report any errors in the transmission channel by sending an echo response to the sender. In addition, ICMP is also used to access network performance by using the ping command and the traceroute command.

With what we have covered so far, we hope you have gotten everything you need to know about the difference between ICMP and TCP. Do let us know in the comment section if you have any questions.

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