Friday, September 26, 2008

Computer networking and Devices

Computer networking

A computer network is a group of interconnected computers. Networks may be classified according to a wide variety of characteristics. This article provides a general overview of some types and categories and presents the basic components of a network.

Computer Network

Computer networks have been a boon for businesses because they connect different makes and models of microcomputers, minicomputers or even mainframe computers, allowing for shared communication, files and equipment. The first networks appeared in the 1960s when multi-user networks were introduced. In multi-user systems, dumb terminals, which do not have processing capabilities of their own, are connected to a central host computer, which shares processing time with these dumb terminals. Now much more popular are Local Area Networks, or LANS, which appeared in the early 1970s. A LAN is a communication network privately owned by the organization using it. LANs utilize stand-alone microcomputers rather than dumb terminals and can vary greatly in size, range and complexity. The actual distance and number of computers that can be connected is highly dependent upon the type of LAN and communication line used. Telephone lines are sometimes used and are most convenient; however, coaxial cable connections permit faster, higher quality transmissions. Fiber optics, tiny tubes of glass half the diameter of a human hair, has become the preferred technology of the 1990s, allowing faster and less expensive data transmissions than wire cabling. All networks are different in size and complexity. However, they all share one of three similar shapes. These shapes are known as network topologies. There are three basic topologies to which most networks conform: Bus, Ring, and Star. The Bus topology uses a single communication line to connect equipment, allowing contact between all stations, or nodes. Failure of a single micro-computer may interfere with the rest of the network.

Network Classification

The following list presents major categories used for classifying networks.


Based on their scale, networks can be classified as Local Area Network (LAN), Wide Area Network (WAN), Metropolitan Area Network (MAN), etc.

Connection method

Computer networks can also be classified according to the hardware technology that is used to connect the individual devices in the network such as Optical fiber, Ethernet, Wireless LAN, HomePNA, or Power line communication.

Ethernet uses physical wiring to connect devices. Often deployed devices are hubs, switches, bridges, and/or routers.

Wireless LAN technology is designed to connect devices without wiring. These devices use radio waves as transmission medium.

Functional relationship (Network Architectures)

Computer networks may be classified according to the functional relationships which exist among the elements of the network, e.g., Active Networking, Client-server and Peer-to-peer (workgroup) architecture.

Network topology

Computer networks may be classified according to the network topology upon which the network is based, such as Bus network, Star network, Ring network, Mesh network, Star-bus network, Tree or Hierarchical topology network, etc.

Network Topology signifies the way in which devices in the network see their logical relations to one another. The use of the term "logical" here is significant. That is, network topology is independent of the "physical" layout of the network. Even if networked computers are physically placed in a linear arrangement, if they are connected via a hub, the network has a Star topology, rather than a Bus Topology. In this regard the visual and operational characteristics of a network are distinct; the logical network topology is not necessarily the same as the physical layout.

Types of networks

Below is a list of the most common types of computer networks in order of scale.

Personal Area Network (PAN)

A personal area network (PAN) is a computer network used for communication among computer devices close to one person. Some examples of devices that are used in a PAN are printers, fax machines, telephones, PDAs or scanners. The reach of a PAN is typically within about 20-30 feet (approximately 6-9 meters).

Personal area networks may be wired with computer buses such as USB[1] and FireWire. A wireless personal area network (WPAN) can also be made possible with network technologies such as IrDA and Bluetooth.

Local Area Network (LAN)

A network covering a small geographic area, like a home, office, or building. Current LANs are most likely to be based on Ethernet technology. For example, a library may have a wired or wireless LAN for users to interconnect local devices (e.g., printers and servers) and to connect to the internet. On a wired LAN, PCs in the library are typically connected by category 5 (Cat5) cable, running the IEEE 802.3 protocol through a system of interconnection devices and eventually connect to the internet. The cables to the servers are typically on Cat 5e enhanced cable, which will support IEEE 802.3 at 1 Gbit/s. A wireless LAN may exist using a different IEEE protocol, 802.11b, 802.11g or possibly 802.11n. The staff computers (bright green in the figure) can get to the color printer, checkout records, and the academic network and the Internet. All user computers can get to the Internet and the card catalog. Each workgroup can get to its local printer. Note that the printers are not accessible from outside their workgroup.

Typical library network, in a branching tree topology and controlled access to resources

All interconnected devices must understand the network layer (layer 3), because they are handling multiple subnets (the different colors). Those inside the library, which have only 10/100 Mbit/s Ethernet connections to the user device and a Gigabit Ethernet connection to the central router, could be called "layer 3 switches" because they only have Ethernet interfaces and must understand IP. It would be more correct to call them access routers, where the router at the top is a distribution router that connects to the Internet and academic networks' customer access routers.

The defining characteristics of LANs, in contrast to WANs (wide area networks), include their higher data transfer rates, smaller geographic range, and lack of a need for leased telecommunication lines. Current Ethernet or other IEEE 802.3 LAN technologies operate at speeds up to 10 Gbit/s. This is the data transfer rate. IEEE has projects investigating the standardization of 100 Gbit/s, and possibly 40 Gbit/s.

Campus Area Network (CAN)

A network that connects two or more LANs but that is limited to a specific and contiguous geographical area such as a college campus, industrial complex, office building, or a military base. A CAN may be considered a type of MAN (metropolitan area network), but is generally limited to an area that is smaller than a typical MAN. This term is most often used to discuss the implementation of networks for a contiguous area. This should not be confused with a Controller Area Network. A LAN connects network devices over a relatively short distance. A networked office building, school, or home usually contains a single LAN, though sometimes one building will contain a few small LANs (perhaps one per room), and occasionally a LAN will span a group of nearby buildings. In TCP/IP networking, a LAN is often but not always implemented as a single IP subnet.

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

A Metropolitan Area Network is a network that connects two or more Local Area Networks or Campus Area Networks together but does not extend beyond the boundaries of the immediate town/city. Routers, switches and hubs are connected to create a Metropolitan Area Network.

Wide Area Network (WAN)

A WAN is a data communications network that covers a relatively broad geographic area (i.e. one city to another and one country to another country) and that often uses transmission facilities provided by common carriers, such as telephone companies. WAN technologies generally function at the lower three layers of the OSI reference model: the physical layer, the data link layer, and the network layer.

Global Area Network (GAN)

Global area networks (GAN) specifications are in development by several groups, and there is no common definition. In general, however, a GAN is a model for supporting mobile communications across an arbitrary number of wireless LANs, satellite coverage areas, etc. The key challenge in mobile communications is "handing off" the user communications from one local coverage area to the next. In IEEE Project 802, this involves a succession of terrestrial Wireless local area networks (WLAN).[2]


Two or more networks or network segments connected using devices that operate at layer 3 (the 'network' layer) of the OSI Basic Reference Model, such as a router. Any interconnection among or between public, private, commercial, industrial, or governmental networks may also be defined as an internetwork.

In modern practice, the interconnected networks use the Internet Protocol. There are at least three variants of internetwork, depending on who administers and who participates in them:

  • Intranet
  • Extranet
  • Internet

Intranets and extranets may or may not have connections to the Internet. If connected to the Internet, the intranet or extranet is normally protected from being accessed from the Internet without proper authorization. The Internet is not considered to be a part of the intranet or extranet, although it may serve as a portal for access to portions of an extranet.


An intranet is a set of networks, using the Internet Protocol and IP-based tools such as web browsers and file transfer applications, that is under the control of a single administrative entity. That administrative entity closes the intranet to all but specific, authorized users. Most commonly, an intranet is the internal network of an organization. A large intranet will typically have at least one web server to provide users with organizational information.


An extranet is a network or internetwork that is limited in scope to a single organization or entity but which also has limited connections to the networks of one or more other usually, but not necessarily, trusted organizations or entities (e.g. a company's customers may be given access to some part of its intranet creating in this way an extranet, while at the same time the customers may not be considered 'trusted' from a security standpoint). Technically, an extranet may also be categorized as a CAN, MAN, WAN, or other type of network, although, by definition, an extranet cannot consist of a single LAN; it must have at least one connection with an external network.


The Internet is a specific internetwork. It consists of a worldwide interconnection of governmental, academic, public, and private networks based upon the networking technologies of the Internet Protocol Suite. It is the successor of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) developed by DARPA of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Internet is also the communications backbone underlying the World Wide Web (WWW). The 'Internet' is most commonly spelled with a capital 'I' as a proper noun, for historical reasons and to distinguish it from other generic internetworks.

Participants in the Internet use a diverse array of methods of several hundred documented, and often standardized, protocols compatible with the Internet Protocol Suite and an addressing system (IP Addresses) administered by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and address registries. Service providers and large enterprises exchange information about the reachability of their address spaces through the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), forming a redundent world-wide mesh of transmission paths.

Basic Hardware Components

All networks are made up of basic hardware building blocks to interconnect network nodes, such as Network Interface Cards (NICs), Bridges, Hubs, Switches, and Routers. In addition, some method of connecting these building blocks is required, usually in the form of galvanic cable (most commonly Category 5 cable). Less common are microwave links (as in IEEE 802.11) or optical cable ("optical fiber").

Network Interface Cards

A network card, network adapter or NIC (network interface card) is a piece of computer hardware designed to allow computers to communicate over a computer network. It provides physical access to a networking medium and often provides a low-level addressing system through the use of MAC addresses. It allows users to connect to each other either by using cables or wirelessly.


A repeater is an electronic device that receives a signal and retransmits it at a higher level or higher power, or onto the other side of an obstruction, so that the signal can cover longer distances without degradation. In most twisted pair ethernet configurations, repeaters are required for cable runs longer than 100 meters away from the computer .


A hub contains multiple ports. When a packet arrives at one port, it is copied to all the ports of the hub for transmission. When the packets are copied, the destination address in the frame does not change to a broadcast address. It does this in a rudimentary way, it simply copies the data to all of the Nodes connected to the hub.[3]


A network bridge connects multiple network segments at the data link layer (layer 2) of the OSI model. Bridges do not promiscuously copy traffic to all ports, as hubs do, but learns which MAC addresses are reachable through specific ports. Once the bridge associates a port and an address, it will send traffic for that address only to that port. Bridges do send broadcasts to all ports except the one on which the broadcast was received.

Bridges learn the association of ports and addresses by examining the source address of frames that it sees on various ports. Once a frame arrives through a port, its source address is stored and the bridge assumes that MAC address is associated with that port. The first time that a previously unknown destination address is seen, the bridge will forward the frame to all ports other than the one on which the frame arrived.

Bridges come in three basic types:

  1. Local bridges: Directly connect local area networks (LANs)
  2. Remote bridges: Can be used to create a wide area network (WAN) link between LANs. Remote bridges, where the connecting link is slower than the end networks, largely have been replaced by routers.
  3. Wireless bridges: Can be used to join LANs or connect remote stations to LANs.


A switch is a device that performs switching. Specifically, it forwards and filters OSI layer 2 datagrams (chunk of data communication) between ports (connected cables) based on the Mac-Addresses in the packets.[4] This is distinct from a hub in that it only forwards the datagrams to the ports involved in the communications rather than all ports connected. Strictly speaking, a switch is not capable of routing traffic based on IP address (layer 3) which is necessary for communicating between network segments or within a large or complex LAN. Some switches are capable of routing based on IP addresses but are still called switches as a marketing term. A switch normally has numerous ports with the intention that most or all of the network be connected directly to a switch, or another switch that is in turn connected to a switch.[5]

Switches is a marketing term that encompasses routers and bridges, as well as devices that may distribute traffic on load or by application content (e.g., a Web URL identifier). Switches may operate at one or more OSI layers, including physical, data link, network, or transport (i.e., end-to-end). A device that operates simultaneously at more than one of these layers is called a multilayer switch.

Overemphasizing the ill-defined term "switch" often leads to confusion when first trying to understand networking. Many experienced network designers and operators recommend starting with the logic of devices dealing with only one protocol level, not all of which are covered by OSI. Multilayer device selection is an advanced topic that may lead to selecting particular implementations, but multilayer switching is simply not a real-world design concept.


Routers are networking devices that forward data packets between networks using headers and forwarding tables to determine the best path to forward the packets. Routers work at the network layer of the TCP/IP model or layer 3 of the OSI model. Routers also provide interconnectivity between like and unlike media (RFC 1812). This is accomplished by examining the Header of a data packet, and making a decision on the next hop to which it should be sent (RFC 1812) They use preconfigured static routes, status of their hardware interfaces, and routing protocols to select the best route between any two subnets. A router is connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its ISP's network. Some DSL and cable modems, for home (and even office) use, have been integrated with routers to allow multiple home/office computers to access the Internet through the same connection. Many of these new devices also consist of wireless access points (waps) or wireless routers to allow for IEEE 802.11b/g wireless enabled devices to connect to the network without the need for a cabled connection.

Computer networking
Network cards such as this one can transmit and receive data at high rates over various types of network cables. This card is a 'Combo' card which supports three cabling standards.

Computer networking is the engineering discipline concerned with communication between computer systems or devices. Networking, routers, routing protocols, and networking over the public Internet have their specifications defined in documents called RFCs.[1] Computer networking is sometimes considered a sub-discipline of telecommunications, computer science, information technology and/or computer engineering. Computer networks rely heavily upon the theoretical and practical application of these scientific and engineering disciplines.

A computer network is any set of computers or devices connected to each other with the ability to exchange data.[2] Examples of different networks are:

All networks are interconnected to allow communication with a variety of different kinds of media, including twisted-pair copper wire cable, coaxial cable, optical fiber, and various wireless technologies.[3] The devices can be separated by a few meters (e.g. via Bluetooth) or nearly unlimited distances (e.g. via the interconnections of the Internet[4]).

Views of networks

Users and network administrators often have different views of their networks. Often, users share printers and some servers form a workgroup, which usually means they are in the same geographic location and are on the same LAN. A community of interest has less of a connotation of being in a local area, and should be thought of as a set of arbitrarily located users who share a set of servers, and possibly also communicate via peer-to-peer technologies.

Network administrators see networks from both physical and logical perspectives. The physical perspective involves geographic locations, physical cabling, and the network elements (e.g., routers, bridges and application layer gateways that interconnect the physical media. Logical networks, called, in the TCP/IP architecture, subnets , map onto one or more physical media. For example, a common practice in a campus of buildings is to make a set of LAN cables in each building appear to be a common subnet, using virtual LAN (VLAN) technology.

Both users and administrators will be aware, to varying extents, of the trust and scope characteristics of a network. Again using TCP/IP architectural terminology, an intranet is a community of interest under private administration usually by an enterprise, and is only accessible by authorized users (e.g. employees).[5] Intranets do not have to be connected to the Internet, but generally have a limited connection. An extranet is an extension of an intranet that allows secure communications to users outside of the intranet (e.g. business partners, customers).[5]

Informally, the Internet is the set of users, enterprises,and content providers that are interconnected by Internet Service Providers (ISP). From an engineering standpoint, the Internet is the set of subnets, and aggregates of subnets, which share the registered IP address space and exchange information about the reachability of those IP addresses using the Border Gateway Protocol. Typically, the human-readable names of servers are translated to IP addresses, transparently to users, via the directory function of the Domain Name System (DNS).

Over the Internet, there can be business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) communications. Especially when money or sensitive information is exchanged, the communications are apt to be secured by some form of communications security mechanism. Intranets and extranets can be securely superimposed onto the Internet, without any access by general Internet users, using secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology.

When used for gaming one computer will have to be the server while the others play through it.


Before the advent of computer networks that were based upon some type of telecommunications system, communication between calculation machines and early computers was performed by human users by carrying instructions between them. Many of the social behavior seen in today's Internet was demonstrably present in nineteenth-century telegraph networks, and arguably in even earlier networks using visual signals. [6]

In September 1940 George Stibitz used a teletype machine to send instructions for a problem set from his Model K at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to his Complex Number Calculator in New York and received results back by the same means. Linking output systems like teletypes to computers was an interest at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) when, in 1962, J.C.R. Licklider was hired and developed a working group he called the "Intergalactic Network", a precursor to the ARPANet.

In 1964, researchers at Dartmouth developed the Dartmouth Time Sharing System for distributed users of large computer systems. The same year, at MIT, a research group supported by General Electric and Bell Labs used a computer (DEC's PDP-8) to route and manage telephone connections.

Throughout the 1960s Leonard Kleinrock, Paul Baran and Donald Davies independently conceptualized and developed network systems which used datagrams or packets that could be used in a packet switched network between computer systems.

1965 Thomas Merrill and Lawrence G. Roberts created the first wide area network(WAN).

The first widely used PSTN switch that used true computer control was the Western Electric 1ESS switch, introduced in 1965.

In 1969 the University of California at Los Angeles, SRI (in Stanford), University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah were connected as the beginning of the ARPANet network using 50 kbit/s circuits. Commercial services using X.25, an alternative architecture to the TCP/IP suite, were deployed in 1972.

Computer networks, and the technologies needed to connect and communicate through and between them, continue to drive computer hardware, software, and peripherals industries. This expansion is mirrored by growth in the numbers and types of users of networks from the researcher to the home user.

Today, computer networks are the core of modern communication. For example, all modern aspects of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) are computer-controlled, and telephony increasingly runs over the Internet Protocol, although not necessarily the public Internet. The scope of communication has increased significantly in the past decade and this boom in communications would not have been possible without the progressively advancing computer network.

Networking methods

Networking is a complex part of computing that makes up most of the IT Industry. Without networks, almost all communication in the world would cease to happen. It is because of networking that telephones, televisions, the internet, etc. work.

One way to categorize computer networks is by their geographic scope, although many real-world networks interconnect Local Area Networks (LAN) via Wide Area Networks (WAN)and wireless networks[WWAN]. These three (broad) types are:

Local area network (LAN)

A local area network is a network that spans a relatively small space and provides services to a small number of people. The first LAN was invented by a Law Doctor in 1978. Depending on the number of people that use a Local Area Network, a peer-to-peer or client-server method of networking may be used. A peer-to-peer network is where each client shares their resources with other workstations in the network. Examples of peer-to-peer networks are: Small office networks where resource use is minimal and a home network. A client-server network is where every client is connected to the server and each other. Client-server networks use servers in different capacities. These can be classified into two types: Single-service servers, where the server performs one task such as file server, print server, etc.; while other servers can not only perform in the capacity of file servers and print servers, but they also conduct calculations and use these to provide information to clients (Web/Intranet Server). Computers are linked via Ethernet Cable, can be joined either directly (one computer to another), or via a network hub that allows multiple connections.

Historically, LANs have featured much higher speeds than WANs. This is not necessarily the case when the WAN technology appears as Metro Ethernet, implemented over optical transmission systems.

Wide area network (WAN)

A wide area network is a network where a wide variety of resources are deployed across a large domestic area or internationally. An example of this is a multinational business that uses a WAN to interconnect their offices in different countries. The largest and best example of a WAN is the Internet, which is a network comprised of many smaller networks. The Internet is considered the largest network in the world.[7]. The PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) also is an extremely large network that is converging to use Internet technologies, although not necessarily through the public Internet.

A Wide Area Network involves communication through the use of a wide range of different technologies. These technologies include Point-to-Point WANs such as Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) and High-Level Data Link Control (HDLC), Frame Relay, ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and Sonet (Synchronous Optical Network). The difference between the WAN technologies is based on the switching capabilities they perform and the speed at which sending and receiving bits of information (data) occur.

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

A metropolitan network is a network that is too large for even the largest of LAN's but is not on the scale of a WAN. It also integrates two or more LAN networks over a specific geographical area ( usually a city ) so as to increase the network and the flow of communications. The LAN's in question would usually be connected via "backbone" lines.

For more information on WANs, see Frame Relay, ATM and Sonet.

Wireless networks (WLAN, WWAN)

A wireless network is basically the same as a LAN or a WAN but there are no wires between hosts and servers. The data is transferred over sets of radio transceivers. These types of networks are beneficial when it is too costly or inconvenient to run the necessary cables. For more information, see Wireless LAN and Wireless wide area network. The media access protocols for LANs come from the IEEE.

The most common IEEE 802.11 WLANs cover, depending on antennas, ranges from hundreds of meters to a few kilometers. For larger areas, either communications satellites of various types, cellular radio, or wireless local loop (IEEE 802.16) all have advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the type of mobility needed, the relevant standards may come from the IETF or the ITU.

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