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User Datagram Protocol (UDP): When to Use UDP Over TCP?

User Datagram Protocol (UDP): When to Use UDP Over TCP?

 By Charles Joseph | Cybersecurity Researcher
 Published on December 15th, 2023

The User Datagram Protocol, often referred to as UDP, is one of the key ways that data transfers over the internet. It’s like a delivery service that sends information from one computer to another but doesn’t check if the data successfully arrived. Its main feature is speed, which makes it perfect for real-time services like online games or video streams where quick delivery is important.

User Datagram Protocol (UDP) Examples

1. Online Gaming

Online gaming is a strong example of where User Datagram Protocol (UDP) is crucial. Games require rapid exchanges of data to maintain an immersive, real-time environment for players. Whether it’s a fast-paced action game or a strategic multiplayer platform, every bit of latency can hugely impact a player’s experience.

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UDP enables this high-speed data transfer offering an edge in performance. Instead of waiting for acknowledgments for every data packet sent and received like its counterpart TCP, UDP just sends the data with no checks. This ability to continuously send data without waiting ensures that game-play remains smooth and responsive.

It’s worth noting that while UDP doesn’t guarantee all data packets will arrive or that they do in the correct order, games use techniques to handle the occasional lost packet or out-of-order delivery. In most scenarios, the speed advantage obtained by using UDP outweighs the minor risk of data loss.

2. Video Streaming

In the world of digital entertainment, video streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime have gained enormous popularity. The primary responsibility of these platforms is to deliver high-quality video content without any significant interruptions or buffering. Here, UDP comes into play.

UDP’s key feature is speed through its steady flow of data packets, which is crucial for streaming high definition video content in real time. It ensures smooth playbacks and minimizes buffering delays that can negatively impact viewer experience.

While UDP does not provide guaranteed delivery of data packets, streaming platforms are designed to manage minor losses. For instance, if a couple of frames of a movie are lost during transmission, the viewer may not even notice. This quality makes UDP the protocol of choice for video streaming services.

3. Internet Telephony

Internet Telephony, or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, such as Skype or FaceTime, is another domain where UDP is extensively used. These platforms provide voice and video communication over the internet in real-time, making the speed of data delivery crucial.

UDPs play a fundamental role by transmitting voice and video data as quickly as possible. Given the real-time nature of a call, it’s more critical that the data arrives quickly rather than all data arriving at all. If a few packets of data are lost during the call, it might cause a slight drop in voice or video quality, but it wouldn’t usually disrupt the conversation.

Given these requirements, the fast and efficient UDP is the protocol of choice for VoIP services. It keeps the conversation flowing without noticeable latency that could otherwise interrupt fluid communication.


The User Datagram Protocol, or UDP, plays a crucial role in facilitating fast, real-time data transmission over the internet, with applications ranging from online gaming to video streaming and internet telephony. Despite its lack of delivery guarantees, its speed and efficiency make it the go-to choice for services where data needs to flow quickly and continuously.

Key Takeaways

  • User Datagram Protocol (UDP) is a protocol that allows fast, uninterrupted data transmission over the internet.
  • UDP is heavily employed in real-time applications such as online gaming, video streaming, and internet telephony.
  • Contrarily to a protocol like TCP, UDP does not wait for acknowledgements for sent data, thus ensuring constant data flow.
  • Although UDP doesn’t ensure every packet of data arrives or that they do in order, the speed advantage generally outweighs the minor risk of data loss.
  • UDP’s inherent functionality enhances user experience in diverse fields, making it an integral part of the internet’s data delivery system.

Related Questions

1. How does UDP compare to TCP?

UDP is simpler and faster than TCP as it does not incorporate the system of acknowledgements that TCP uses to confirm packet delivery. This makes UDP ideal for time-sensitive applications like online gaming or video streaming, whereas TCP is better suited for applications where data integrity is more important than speed, such as sending an email or loading a webpage.

2. Are there disadvantages to using UDP?

Yes, while speed is a primary advantage of UDP, it comes with the risk of data loss or out-of-order delivery, since it lacks the error checking and recovery services that protocols like TCP provide.

3. Is UDP secure?

On its own, UDP doesn’t provide security features. For secure communication over UDP, additional security protocols like the Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) are used.

4. When should UDP be used instead of TCP?

UDP should be used over TCP when the application requires fast and continuous data delivery and can tolerate minor data losses. Examples include online gaming, live video broadcasts, and VoIP calls.

5. Can you name any other applications of UDP aside from gaming, video streaming and VoIP?

Yes, UDP is also used in Domain Name System (DNS) lookups, Network Time Protocol (NTP), and in many IoT (Internet of Things) applications where speed is more important than accurate delivery.

"Amateurs hack systems, professionals hack people."
-- Bruce Schneier, a renown computer security professional
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