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the unit of data that is routed between an origin and a destination on the Internet or any other packet-switched network. When any file (e-mail message, HTML file, GIF file, URL request, and so forth) is sent from one place to another on the Internet, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) layer of TCP/IP divides the file into "chunks" of an efficient size for routing. Each of these packets is separately numbered and includes the Internet address of the destination. The individual packets for a given file may travel different routes through the Internet. When they have all arrived, they are reassembled into the original file (by the TCP layer at the receiving end).
A packet-switching scheme is an efficient way to handle transmissions on a connectionless network such as the Internet. An alternative scheme, circuit-switching, is used for networks allocated for voice connections. In circuit-switching, lines in the network are shared among many users as with packet-switching, but each connection requires the dedication of a particular path for the duration of the connection.