If TCP is connection oriented why do packets follow different paths?

You, my friend, are confusing the functionality of two different layers.

TCP is connection oriented in the sense that there’s a connection establishment, between the two ends where they may negotiate different things like congestion-control mechanism among other things.
The transport layer protocols’ general purpose is to provide process-to-process delivery meaning that it doesn’t know anything about routes; how your packets reach the end system is beyond their scope, they’re only concerned with how packets are being transmitted between the two end PROCESSES.

IP, on the other hand, the Network layer protocol for the Internet, is concerned with data-delivery between end-systems yet it’s connection-less, it maintains no connection so each packet is handled independently of the other packets.
Leaving your system, each router will choose the path that it sees fit for EACH packet, and this path may change depending on availability/congestion.

How does that answer your question?
TCP will make sure packets reach the other process, it won’t care HOW they got there.
IP, on the other hand, will not care if they reach the other end at all, it’ll simply forward each different packet according to what it sees most fit for a particular packet.


Let’s assume that IP was connection-oriented, would that mean packets would follow the same-path?
Not necessarily, it depends on what the word ‘connection’ at this layer means, if it means negotiating certain options related to security, for instance, you may still have all your packets being forwarded through different routes over the Internet.

Not to confuse you though, most connection-oriented services at the network-layer and below mean that the connection, when established, also establishes a virtual-path that all ‘packets’ must follow, for further information read about:
Virtual circuit and frame-relay networks

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