The Fundamentals of Networking

The Fundamentals of Networking


Learn how computer networks function, the architecture that was used to create them, and how to keep them safe in this introduction to networking.

What is a computer network?

The goal of a computer network is to transfer, exchange, or share data and resources between two or more computers that are linked together via WiFi or wires (wires). Hardware and software are used to create a computer network, such as routers, switches, access points, and cables (e.g., operating systems or business applications).

A computer network’s geographic location frequently identifies it. A WAN (wide area network) can link computers across continents, as opposed to a LAN (local area network), which connects computers inside a certain physical area, such as an office building. The internet, which connects billions of computers globally, is the biggest example of a WAN.

A computer network can also be described in terms of the protocols it employs for communication, the physical configuration of its parts, the way it manages traffic, and its intended application.

Computer network types

The sorts of computer networks that meet different networking requirements changed along with those needs. The most typical and extensively used types of computer networks are listed below:

LAN (local area network):

Computers can exchange information, files, and resources when they are linked together via a local area network or LAN. A LAN, for instance, might link every computer in a workplace, institution, or healthcare facility. LANs are often privately owned and run.

WLAN (wireless local area network):

Similar to a LAN, a WLAN uses wireless connections to connect devices to the network.

WAN (wide area network):

A wide-area network, or WAN, connects computers across a large area, such as from one region to another or even from one continent to another. The largest WAN, which connects billions of computers globally, is the internet. For WAN administration, you will often encounter collaborative or dispersed ownership structures.

MAN (metropolitan area network): 

The average MAN is bigger than a LAN but smaller than a WAN. MANs are often owned and operated by cities and government agencies.

PAN (personal area network):

A PAN is for one person only. For instance, if you own both an iPhone and a Mac, it’s highly probable that you’ve set up a PAN to share and sync content—including emails, images, and more—between the two devices.

SAN (storage area network):

A SAN is a specialized network that gives users access to block-level storage, which is a shared network or cloud storage that functions and appears to users to be like a physical hard drive connected to a computer. (See Block Storage: A Complete Guide for more details on how a SAN with block storage functions.)

CAN (campus area network): 

A corporate area network (CAN) is another name for it. The size of a CAN is between that of a LAN and a WAN. College, university, and corporate campuses are among the places that CANs serve.

Important terms and concepts

The following are some common terms to know when discussing computer networking:

IP address:

Every device connected to a network that makes use of the Internet Protocol is given a specific number called an IP address. Each IP address specifies the host network of the device and the specific place on the host network where the device is located. Data sent from one device to another includes a “header” that contains the IP addresses of the sending device and the destination device.


In a network, a node is a point of connection that has the ability to create, send, receive, or store data. To gain access to any node, you must first provide an identity, such as an IP address. Computers, printers, modems, bridges, and switches are a few examples of nodes. Any network device that can identify, process, and transmit data to any other network node is considered a node.


A router is a physical or virtual device that connects networks by sending information contained in data packets. In order to decide the optimal path for the information to take to go to its final destination, routers examine the data included in the packets. Data packets are forwarded by routers until they arrive at their target node.


A switch is a device that regulates node-to-node communication inside a network and connects other devices, ensuring that data packets reach their final destination. A switch delivers data between nodes inside a single network, whereas a router sends data between networks. Data transfer between networked devices is referred to as “switching” in discussions about computer networks. The following are the three primary types of switching:

Circuit switching creates a dedicated conduit for communication between network nodes. By using a dedicated path, it is ensured that the entire bandwidth will be accessible for the transmission and that no other traffic will pass through it.

With packet switching, data is divided into little, independent units called packets that put less strain on the network because of their small size. To get to their final destination, the packets go across the network.

With message switching, a message is sent in its entirety from the source node and passes through each switch before arriving at the destination node.


An individual connection between network devices is designated by a port. A number is used to identify each port. Ports are the suite or room numbers if you conceive of an IP address as being similar to the address of a hotel. Port numbers are used by computers to specify which service, application, or process should receive particular communications.

Network cable types

Ethernet twisted pair, coaxial, and fiber optic cables are the most widely used forms of network cable. The size of the network, how the network’s components are organized, and the actual distance between devices all influence the type of cable that is used.

Examples of computer networks

A computer network is created by two or more computers connected via wire or wirelessly in order to share resources and data. Nowadays, almost all digital devices are connected to a computer network.

You and your coworkers might share access to a printer or a group messaging system in an office setting. This is most likely made possible by a LAN, or local area network, which enables resource sharing inside your department.

A city administration may be in charge of a network of security cameras that cover the entire city and track traffic and occurrences. This network would be a component of a MAN, or metropolitan area network, that enables city emergency workers to react to traffic incidents, suggest alternate routes to cars, and even issue traffic citations to drivers.

Computer networks and the internet

A worldwide network of networks called the internet connects billions of digital devices. These gadgets can communicate via established protocols. The hypertext transfer protocol, denoted by the prefix “HTTP” in front of every website URL, is one of those protocols. Every device that connects to the internet needs an IP address, which is a type of internet protocol. Similar to your mailing address, an IP address provides a specific location that enables accurate information delivery.

Network service providers (NSPs) and Internet service providers (ISPs) supply the infrastructure necessary for the internet to carry data packets. Not every piece of data supplied over the internet reaches every internet-connected device. Infrastructure and protocols work together to specify where information should go.

How do they work

Computer networks use cables, fiber optics, or wireless communications to connect nodes like computers, routers, and switches. These links enable communication and resource sharing among networked devices.

Networks adhere to protocols, which outline the sending and receiving of communications. These protocols enable communication between devices. The Internet Protocol, or IP address, is a set of integers that each device on a network uses to uniquely identify itself and be recognized by other devices.

Routers are virtual or physical objects that help networks communicate with one another. Routers examine data to determine the most efficient path for it to take to its final destination. Switches control node-to-node communication within a network by connecting devices and ensuring that data packets moving across the network reach their final destination.


There are many entry points to a network. These entry points include the hardware and software that comprise the network itself as well as the devices used to access the network, like computers, smartphones, and tablets. Because of these entry points, network security requires using several defense methods. Defenses may include firewalls—devices that monitor network traffic and prevent access to parts of the network based on security rules.

A network has numerous ports at the entrance. These entry points include the network’s hardware and software as well as the PCs, smartphones, and tablets that are used to access the network. Due to various entry points, network security necessitates the employment of many defense strategies. Firewalls are a type of defense because they watch over network traffic and block access to specific areas of the network according to security guidelines.

Another layer of security is added by procedures for user ID and password authentication. Data isolation is a component of security that makes proprietary or personal information more difficult to obtain than less important data. Other network security methods include making sure patches and upgrades are applied to hardware and software on a regular basis, educating network users about their part in security procedures, and remaining vigilant against external threats launched by hackers and other bad actors. Network security is a never-ending activity because network threats are always changing.

Load balancers and networks

The efficient distribution of workloads, jobs, and network traffic among available servers is accomplished by load balancers. Think of load balancers like the airport’s air traffic control. The load balancer monitors all incoming network traffic and routes it to the server or router that is best suited to handle it. Avoiding resource overload, optimizing available resources, enhancing reaction times, and maximizing throughput are the goals of load balancing.

See Load Balancing: A Complete Guide for a thorough overview of load balancers.

Content delivery networks

A content delivery network (CDN) is a distributed server network that uses the user’s location to provide temporarily stored copies of website content to users. To shorten the distance between website visitors and your website server, a CDN stores this content in numerous locations and serves it to users. Websites can offer material more quickly and more effectively to reach a worldwide audience by having cached content closer to their end consumers. By adding a layer between the end user and your website infrastructure, CDNs defend against traffic spikes, reduce latency, lower bandwidth consumption, expedite load times, and diminish the effect of hacks and assaults.

As digital consumption rises, more content owners are turning to CDNs to better serve content consumers. This includes live-streaming media, on-demand media, gaming firms, application developers, and e-commerce websites.

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