Part of the Network administration glossary:

1) In a network, latency, a synonym for delay, is an expression of how much time it takes for a packet of data to get from one designated point to another. In some usages (for example, AT&T), latency is measured by sending a packet that is returned to the sender and the round-trip time is considered the latency.

The latency assumption seems to be that data should be transmitted instantly between one point and another (that is, with no delay at all). The contributors to network latency include:

  • Propagation: This is simply the time it takes for a packet to travel between one place and another at the speed of light.
  • Transmission: The medium itself (whether optical fiber, wireless, or some other) introduces some delay. The size of the packet introduces delay in a round trip since a larger packet will take longer to receive and return than a short one.
  • Router and other processing: Each gateway node takes time to examine and possibly change the header in a packet (for example, changing the hop count in the time-to-live field).
  • Other computer and storage delays: Within networks at each end of the journey, a packet may be subject to storage and hard disk access delays at intermediate devices such as switches and bridges. (In backbone statistics, however, this kind of latency is probably not considered.)

2) In a computer system, latency is often used to mean any delay or waiting that increases real or perceived response time beyond the response time desired. Specific contributors to computer latency include mismatches in data speed between the microprocessor and input/output devices and inadequate data buffers.

Within a computer, latency can be removed or "hidden" by such techniques as prefetching (anticipating the need for data input requests) and multithreading, or using parallelism across multiple execution threads.

3) In 3D simulation, in describing a helmet that provides stereoscopic vision and head tracking, latency is the time between the computer detecting head motion to the time it displays the appropriate image.

This was last updated in June 2006
Contributor(s): Ed Blair
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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