Cambridge Dictionary defines a network as "a group formed from parts that are connected together." When referencing technology, a network is a system of computers, printers, servers, and other devices that are interconnected for the purpose of communication and collaboration.
Computer networks are important to homes, businesses, municipalities, and schools because they allow data and devices to be shared among groups of people. Understanding networks can be confusing, but an introduction to basic networking terminology and concepts can help.
Types of Networks
Networks are typically characterized by size and function. Common types are:
- PAN (Personal Area Network): network that links local home or office devices like a PC and a printer
- LAN (Local Area Network): network owned and managed by one individual or organization that spans a short range of distance
- WAN (Wide Area Network): network that features a collection of LANs spanning a wide distance
- WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network): LAN featuring wireless technology
- MAN (Metropolitan Area Network): network owned and managed by a government entity or large corporation
- CAN (Campus Area Network): similar to a MAN but smaller; owned and managed by a college, university, or business campus
- SAN (System Area Network): network with a cluster configuration that links high-performance computers with high-speed connections
Types of Network Devices
Several types of devices are important to network communication. The following three types are the most commonly referenced.
When it comes to basic network terminology and concepts, switches play an important role. They allow networked devices like computers, servers, and printers to communicate more efficiently. Two types of switches include unmanaged switches, which cannot be configured, and managed switches, which can be adjusted for better control of network access and traffic.
According to Cisco, a multinational technology company, switches create networks and routers connect them. Not only do routers connect multiple computer networks together, but they also connect computers to the Internet and allow computers in a network to share one Internet connection, which saves users money. Routers also direct traffic on the Internet by analyzing data and determining the best route for it to travel across a network.
Access points allow Wi-Fi devices to connect to wired networks, and they extend bandwidth so that devices can access the network from a greater distance. Usually, access points are hardwired to other devices like broadband modems or network switches.
While this basic networking guide covers types of networks and network devices, there are many more networking concepts to discover. If you're interested in learning more about computer networking, check out courses in the Udacity Catalog or discover available options for pursuing a Udacity Nanodegree program.