Networking Basics

In the world of modern technology, the process of networking has become an essential tool for governments, businesses, and even schools to operate both efficiently and securely.

What is Networking?

Networking is the practice of linking multiple computing devices together in order to share resources. These resources can be printers, CDs, files, or even electronic communications such as e-mails and instant messages. These networks can be created using several different methods, such as cables, telephone lines, satellites, radio waves, and infrared beams. Without the ability to network, businesses, government agencies, and schools would be unable to operate as efficiently as they do today. The ability for an office or school to connect dozens of computers to a single printer is a seemingly simple, yet extremely useful capability. Perhaps even more valuable is the ability to access the same data files from various computers throughout a building. This is incredibly useful for companies that may have files that require access by multiple employees daily. By utilizing networking, those same files could be made available to several employees on separate computers simultaneously, improving efficiency.

The Ins and Outs of Networking

When it comes to networking, there are two essential pieces of equipment that enable numerous devices to be connected: routers and switches

Switches

Switches are used in order to connect many devices on the same network. These devices are generally within the same building, such as an office building or school and could consist of various computers, printers, and other gadgets. The switch acts as a controller, allowing the connected objects to share information with one another. This not only increases productivity and efficiency, but also saves money.

Routers

In addition to switches, networks generally employ routers as well. These essential tools connect different networks to each other through the internet in order to allow for data exchange between networks. Whereas the switch can be considered a controller, a router should be considered more of a dispatcher, packaging digital information and choosing the best route for it to travel. Routers can feature several other functions, including firewalls and virtual private networks (VPNs) that enhance the security of the data being sent over the internet.

Network Types

There are countless types of networks available, especially as networking technologies continue to advance. Two of the most commonly employed networks are LAN and WAN.

• Local Area Network (LAN): These networks are used to connect devices over relatively short distances, such as within a building, school, or home. LANs generally employ Ethernet cables as a means of connecting the various gadgets within the network.
• Wide Area Network (WAN): These networks are used to connect devices over much larger distances than LANs. A WAN is established by using routers to connect various LANs and are generally not owned by a single person or organization. The internet is one massive WAN that spans the entire planet.
• Other Network Types: Various other types of networks exist, including wireless local area networks (WLANs) that are LANs based on wireless network technology and metropolitan area networks (MANs) that cover larger areas than LANs but smaller areas than WANs. These MANs generally span a city and are owned and operated by a government or corporation.

Network Topology

Not to be confused with network type, network topology refers to the virtual layout of the devices within a network and can refer to five distinct categories:

• Bus: This topology utilizes a common backbone, generally a single cable, to connect all the devices on a network.
• Ring: Found in some offices and schools, ring topologies give each device two neighbors for communication purposes. All data travels in a ring, and a failure of that ring can bring down the whole network.
• Star: Found in many homes, a central connection known as a “hub” is connected to all the objects on the network. This hub could be a router or a switch.
• Tree: A hybrid bus/star network, several star hubs are connected to the core cable of a bus in order to vastly increase the number of computers able to connect to the network.
• Mesh: The mesh topology employs the concept of routing, in which each piece of data sent on the network has multiple paths it can take instead of one fixed route. The internet is a perfect example of this topology.

The Art of Computer Networking

Computer networking has become a central theme in nearly every aspect of life. From home use to business use, more and more devices are being produced that can access computer networks. Because of this fact, it is important to understand just what computer networking is.

Computer Network Definition

A computer network is a collection of computers and other devices that are able to communicate with each other and share data. These devices include computers, printers, tablets, phones, and many other electronics.

Computer Networking Essentials

Both traditional and modern forms of computer networking aim to provide users with the ability to share data amongst multiple gadgets, whether they be in the same building or across the globe. Traditional computer networking relied on Ethernet and fiber optic cables to connect various devices on a network. More modern technology has emerged that allows for wireless connections between electronics. These technologies include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatible devices. It is very helpful to understand the role that each of these technologies plays in computer networking.

• Wide Area Interconnects: Networks that must support large volumes of devices simultaneously, such as satellites or cellular networks are considered wide area interconnects. They are generally expensive to build and run more slowly than others due to the large area and high volume of users.
• Long Distance Interconnects: These include cables such as Ethernet and fiber optics. They support a very large amount of data and serve many clients who share common hardware.
• Short Distance Interconnects: These technologies are much newer than other the others and include tools such as Bluetooth. These interconnects are highly optimized for low-cost and also low power usage. Bluetooth is used in many mobile devices, laptop computers, and speakers in order to enable the transfer of data. Popular information sent over Bluetooth includes music, phone calls, and contact information. The market for Bluetooth technology is growing at a rapid pace to include many other items such as remote controlled helicopters and cars, home security systems, and fitness gear. Because it is rather affordable for the connectivity it supplies, Bluetooth technology is finding its way into countless niches.

Types of Internet Connections

Broadband

Broadband internet connections provide high-speed internet that is always on and allows for more data to be transmitted than the traditional dial-up connections. Unlike dial-up services, it does not block phone lines and you do not have to reconnect to the network each time you log off. There are various types of broadband technologies, including digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modems, fibers, wireless broadband connections, and Satellite connections. The fastest of these connections is by far the fiber broadband, outperforming DSL and cable modems by ten to even hundreds of Mbps. Wireless connections perform at a speed similar to DSL and cable modems, while satellites are slower than DSL, but still much faster than traditional dial-up internet.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a play on the term Hi-Fi and represents a wireless internet connection. More specifically, it is a wireless local area network (WLAN) that allows devices to connect wirelessly to the internet. It utilizes 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz radio waves to connect Wi-Fi enabled gadgets (computers, gaming systems, mobile phones, and even some cameras) to the internet without the need for cumbersome wires. These connections can be extremely fast in some cases, reaching speeds of over 100 Mbps, but the convenience of having no cables and the increased speed come at a cost of potentially decreased security. Because there is no need for a physical connection, it is easier for hackers to compromise the security of Wi-Fi connections.

WiMAX

WiMAX is a more advanced form of wireless internet technology than Wi-Fi. It aims to provide the high speeds of broadband connections, the large coverage of phone networks, and the convenience of Wi-Fi into one package. The implementation of WiMAX would allow DSL and cable modem users to ditch their wired internet connections in favor of a high-speed, wireless alternative. Even those users in rural areas who find wireless internet or even phone coverage difficult to come by would be able to connect to the internet via WiMAX due to its very broad coverage. If WiMAX is mastered, the way that people access the internet worldwide would be revolutionized.

Computer Networking: The Server

What is a server? – In information technology, a server is considered any instance of an application that can receive and serve the requests of other programs. Usually these applications are run on computers dedicated to acting solely as servers so that the heavy burden of fulfilling requests from other devices on the network does not overwhelm the computers. Running servers on dedicated computers is also a safety measure, helping to keep the server from being attacked. The computers dedicated to acting as servers usually include faster CPUs, bigger hard drives, better RAM, and multiple power sources. These enhancements allow the server to handle the immense workload and also give it reliability in the event of unfortunate events.

Peer-to-Peer Networks

A Peer-to-Peer network, or P2P network, is one in which multiple computers are connected without linking through a separate computer that acts as a server. These connections can vary based on how many computers are being linked together. Two computers can be linked via a USB drive to allow for the transfer of files. Multiple computers in an office can be connected directly to each other via traditional copper wiring instead of through a server computer. The fundamental basis for P2P networks is that individual permissions must be set for each computer on the network. For instance, if one computer (A) is connected to a printer and another computer (B) on the network wishes to use the printer, then A would first have to grant B permission.

A Dummy Guide to Networking

Having learned about various aspects of computer networking, some aspects more complicated than others, many computer users may wish to have a simple guide they can follow to get their networks up and running. Whether it be a home or business network, there a few simple steps that will make setting up your network as painless as possible. A very typical network set up would be to connect a wireless router into a broadband modem that is in turn plugged into the internet connection of your home or office. Once this step is complete, all of your wireless devices, including your laptop, desktop computer, printer, and mobile phone will have access to the internet via the router. This set up also allows for multiple computers to connect to the network at once, so it would work well for a business office, household network, or even a school or campus network. Once you are connected, you are free to explore the vast amount of information available on the internet.