Revised October 17, 2011

CS 436: Networks and Distributed Computer Systems

General Description

An introduction to principles, algorithms, protocols, and technology standards used in computer networks and distributed systems. Specific topics include resource management, naming and routing, and reliability.


Intended for 3rd- or 4th-year students with an interest in Computer Science. Not open to Computer Science students. Normally available Winter.

Related courses (see calendar for official details)

Predecessors: One of CS 230, 241, 246 or 251; not open to Computer Science students.
Conflicts: CS 454, 456, ECE 428, 454.
Hardware/Software used: UNIX, any programming language.

Typical References

James F. Kurose and Keith W. Ross, Computer Networking: A Top-Down Approach,Addison-Wesley.
Andrew S. Tanenbaum and Maarten Van Steen. Distributed Systems: Principles and Paradigms, Prentice Hall.

Required preparation

At the start of the course, students should have the ability to

  • Use basic algebra, calculus, and probability (for performance analysis).
  • Write simple imperative programs using lists, iteration, and array indexing for both read and write (mutable memory model).
  • Describe data representations used by computer hardware at the bit level, operate on these representations, and compute their values.
  • Explain the basic build process for computer software.
  • Compare basic memory and I/O architectures, and how they can impact performance.
  • Exemplify basic functionality and components of an operating system.

Learning objectives

At the end of the course, students should have the ability to:
  • Recall, explain, and compare transmission media and access control schemes.
  • Recall, explain, and compare addressing and message forwarding paradigms, including path computation.
  • Recall, summarize, and exemplify connection management and reliable message transmission.
  • Recall, explain, and compare naming and name resolution techniques, including mobility.
  • Recall, summarize, and exemplify contemporary network protocols and techniques.
  • Recall, summarize, and explain security/privacy concepts in network protocols and distributed systems
  • Recall, explain, and compare high-level communication services and distribution services.
  • Compare how existing distributed applications utilize services.

Typical syllabus

Physical and data link layer (6 hours)

media types, encoding, error correction, medium access control

Network layer (6 hours)

hierarchical addressing, forwarding, routing algorithms

Transport layer (6 hours)

reliable data transfer, connection management, rate control

Naming and mobility (3 hours)

indirect naming, name resolution, transparency, handover

High-level services (6 hours)

RPC, message queueing, clocks & synchronization, replication

Security and Privacy (3 hours)

confidentiality, integrity, availability

Operations and applications (3 hours)

email, web, multimedia