In the world of computers, networking is the practice of linking two or more computing devices together for the purpose of sharing data. Networks are built with a combination of computer hardware and computer software. Some explanations of networking found in books and tutorials are highly technical, designed for students and professionals, while others are geared more to home and business uses of computer networks. Here's a quick, simplified look at the fundamental concepts of networking.
Types of Computer NetworksGetty Images
Networks can be categorized in several different ways. One method defines the type of a network according to the geographic area it spans. Alternatively, networks can also be classified based on topology or on the types of protocols they support.
Types of Network Equipment: The Hardwaredeepblue4you/Getty Images
The building blocks of a home computer network include adapters, routers, and/or access points. Wired (and hybrid wired/wireless) networking also involves cables of varying types. Finally, large-scale enterprise networks, in particular, often employ other advanced equipment for specialized communication purposes.
Ethernet is a physical and data link layer technology for local area networks. Homes, schools, and offices around the world all commonly use Ethernet-standard cables and adapters to network personal computers.
Wireless Local Area Networking (WLAN)Todor Tsevetkov/E+/Getty Images
Wi-Fi is the most popular wireless communication protocol for local area networks. Private home and business networks and public hotspots use Wi-Fi to connect computers and other wireless devices to each other and the Internet. Bluetooth is another wireless protocol commonly used in cellular phones and computer peripherals for short-range network communication.
Internet ServiceGetty Images
The technologies used to connect to the internet are different than those used for connecting devices on local area networks. Digital subscriber lines (DSL), cable modems, and fiber provide fixed broadband internet service, while WiMax and LTE additionally support mobile connectivity. In geographic areas where these high-speed options are unavailable, subscribers are forced to use older cellular services, satellite, or even dial-up internet instead.
TCP/IP and Other Internet ProtocolsGetty Images
TCP/IP is the primary network protocol of the internet. The acronym refers to Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol, the two frameworks on which the model is based. A related family of protocols built on top of TCP/IP allows web browsers, email, and many other applications to communicate across networks globally. Applications and computers using TCP/IP identify each other with assigned IP addresses, which are a series of numbers that typically looks like ###.##.###.
Network Routing, Switching, and BridgingGrassetto/Getty Images
Most computer networks direct messages from source to destination devices using any of three techniques: routing, switching, and bridging. Routers use certain network address information contained inside messages to send them ahead to their destination (often via other routers). Switches use much of the same technology as routers but typically support local area networks only. Bridging allows messages to flow between two different types of physical networks.