The SSL protocol was originally developed at Netscape to enable ecommerce transaction security on the Web, which required encryption to protect customers’ personal data, as well as authentication and integrity guarantees to ensure a safe transaction. To achieve this, the SSL protocol was implemented at the application layer, directly on top of TCP, enabling protocols above it (HTTP, email, instant messaging, and many others) to operate unchanged while providing communication security when communicating across the network.
The TLS protocol is designed to provide three essential services to all applications running above it: encryption, authentication, and data integrity. Technically, you are not required to use all three in every situation. You may decide to accept a certificate without validating its authenticity, but you should be well aware of the security risks and implications of doing so. In practice, a secure web application will leverage all three services.
Encryption: A mechanism to obfuscate what is sent from one host to another.
Authentication: A mechanism to verify the validity of provided identification material.
Integrity: A mechanism to detect message tampering and forgery.
In order to establish a cryptographically secure data channel, the connection peers must agree on which ciphersuites will be used and the keys used to encrypt the data. The TLS protocol specifies a well-defined handshake sequence to perform this exchange. The ingenious part of this handshake, and the reason TLS works in practice, is due to its use of public key cryptography (also known as asymmetric key cryptography), which allows the peers to negotiate a shared secret key without having to establish any prior knowledge of each other, and to do so over an unencrypted channel.
Source: High Performance Browser Networking.