W2783 Basic Networking
When working with computer devices, it's important to understand the concept of Networking. Networks mainly concern the hardware of computers. They connect devices together to allow them to share data, software, and other forms of communication. Historically, computer networks are thought of in the context of a business or institution because they typically need a specialized network to share resources such as printers, scanners, and expensive software. In this experience, we'll take a look at the components of a Network and shared computer devices to understand how computer networking fundamentally works.
Types of Networks
It's important to understand that a Network is simply the connection of many physical devices using wires or wireless media. At its simplest level, a Network can be thought of as plugging in a printer to a computer.
As a result, many different types of Networks exist, depending on their scope. For example, one of the smallest Networks is called PAN, which stands for Personal Area Network. This refers to the Network many have for their personal use, typically consisting of a computer, one or two monitors, a router, etc.
At the next level is the LAN, which stands for Local Area Network. These are typically used in school and office settings where several computers are connected, allowing the shared use of devices (most commonly printers in these sorts of settings). Beyond this is the MAN, which stands for a Metropolitan Area Network. This covers Networks the size of cities. The WAN or Wide Area Network can cover any distance; the most common example of a WAN is the Internet.
The Internet serves an interesting case study for a Network, however, because the Internet is meant to be a Network that spans the globe and it is meant to be public. This leads to the distinction between public and private Networks. Many companies, for example, have data that they want to share among only their Network privately. This means someone outside the network cannot easily connect to the Network and access all the data.
This distinction leads to the idea of a VPN. You might have heard the term VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network. Essentially, it allows connection to a private Network virtually. These are often used when employees need to access work files from home. They can use a VPN to connect to their companies' private network virtually.
Many complexities remain with the above distinctions; however, if you keep those general distinctions in mind, you understand computer Networks at a basic level.
Components of a Network
Networks require several pieces of hardware to operate effectively. As mentioned, a Network is the connection of several physical devices, typically computers. Switches control these computers and allow them to communicate with each other over a Network . Equipment that is similar to Switches, is Routers.
You might have heard of Internet routers. These simply communicate data between Networks with either a LAN cable (Ethernet) or WiFi (Wireless Ethernet). Routers are integral to how the Internet works because they connect an individual PAN or LAN to the broader Internet. They are usually programmed to operate at high efficiencies as they manage the traffic of data packets between the networks.
You might also have heard of an Access Point. In computer networking, Access Points can be thought of as a way to quickly bring new devices into a Network without the need of cables. These improve flexibility within networks in a business setting.
Finally, Servers are simply computers that provide shared data (files, programs, and other media) to all the devices on the Network.
These all lend themselves to the idea of Network Topology. We won't go too in depth here, but know that Network Topology essentially refers to how the devices of a Network are connected. Common patterns are Line, Star, and Mesh. You can see these in the image below.
Identifiers and Protocols
With Networks, several Identifiers and Protocols are used to distinguish devices and to define how those two devices are to communicate. Possibly the most famous Identifier is known as the IP Address. IP stands for Internet Protocol. It is a unique identifier given to every device that is connected to the Internet. These numbers were assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to keep track of devices on the Internet. The number of IPs in the world is 232 with IP version 4 because every IP is a 32 bits long.
Another identifier for devices is called the MAC Address (Media Access Control Address), which is simply an identifier given to a computer or device when it is manufactured. It's a sort of physical version of an IP Address. The number of MAC addresses available in the world is 248 because every MAC Address is 48 bits long.
In terms of Protocols, there are a few to keep in mind. For example, the ARP , which stands for Address Resolution Protocol is a protocol to convert an IP into the physical MAC. The reverse can be done with RARP (Reverse Address Resolution Protocol).
Finally, there is the DNS Server. This stands for Domain Name System, and it is vital to how the Web works. This is because the DNS Server takes the Web address and URLs that are input into a Web browser and translates it into the necessary IP address or server that is hosting the website for the computers on the Network (the Internet).
We have many moving parts and complexities involved in networking, but these are essentially the core concepts to keep in mind. Try thinking of how all these parts work together and when you feel comfortable, try reading further into how computer Networks operate.
- Types of Computer Networks
- A Network is simply the connection between several devices and can span anywhere between local and global areas
- Networks can be public or private, with the Internet being a quintessential example of a public network
- Networks are made to quickly communicate files and programs between multiple devices such as computers, printers, or scanners
- Components of a Network
- Switches allow control and communication between computers in a Network
- Routers allow communication and traffic between networks
- Access points allow computers to join a Network wirelessly
- Servers hold shared data within a network for the devices to use
- Identifiers and Protocols
- Identifiers are used in networking to keep track of certain devices; Protocols are sets of instructions on how devices communicate
- IP Addresses and MAC Addresses are used to track devices on the Internet and as the devices are being manufactured
- ARP and RARP are two protocols that allow the conversion between IP and MAC and vice versa
- DNS or Domain Name System Server is a common protocol used to convert URLs into IP Addresses, a critical protocol for the Web