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Active Networks (or Active Nets) is a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program to develop a next-generation Internet with a more dynamic routing model. Participating in the program are a number of universities, including MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Network Associates, Inc. and GTE-BBN Internetworking.
The Active Network concept is to move from static routers to active nodes that can handle "smart packets" (also called capsules) that have their own executable code. According to the paper "From Internet to ActiveNet" (see Web site on related entries page):
Active Networks represent a new approach to network architecture that incorporates interposed computation. These networks are "active" in two ways: routers and switches within the network can act on (i.e., perform computations on) user data flowing through them; furthermore, users can "program" the network by supplying their own programs to perform these computations.
The Active Network concept goes beyond IPv6, which operates in static mode. In an Active Network, nodes that are dubbed active can look inside capsules and run the executable code in those capsules. Alternatively, the capsule may contain a pointer that references some code already located on the network. Network nodes may change their behavior based on the code or modify the capsule contents in order to affect network nodes down the line. A capsule may define its own path through the network.
In one case, routes are altered based on where information is cached on the network. This can eliminate the need for packets to move to and from the original source of the information and help reduce traffic. Packets are instead directed to the cached information, which may be closer to the user that requested it.
The Active Network concept is to make the network more flexible in terms of being able to change how it operates and to take advantage of new networking technologies.
Copyright (c) 2001 Tom Sheldon and Big Sur Multimedia.