Written by Daniel O'Sullivan | 11/19/2023


A network in computing is an interconnected group of devices that can communicate and share resources with each other. These devices can range from computers, servers, and printers to more sophisticated IoT (Internet of Things) devices like smart thermostats and home security systems.

Key Components of a Network

  • Nodes: Any device connected to a network is considered a node. This can be a computer, printer, or any other device capable of sending or receiving data.

  • Links: The physical (wires, cables) or wireless (radio waves) connections that tie the nodes together.

  • Router: A device that forwards data packets between computer networks, creating an overlay internetwork.

  • Switch: A network device that connects devices together on a computer network by using packet switching to receive, process, and forward data to the destination device.

  • Modem: A hardware device that converts data into a format suitable for a transmission medium so that it can be transmitted from computer to computer.

Types of Networks

  • Local Area Network (LAN): A network that spans a relatively small area such as a single building or a campus. LANs are typically owned, controlled, and managed by a single person or organization.

  • Wide Area Network (WAN): A network that covers a broad area (e.g., any network whose communications links cross metropolitan, regional, or national boundaries). The internet is the largest WAN, spanning the Earth.

  • Metropolitan Area Network (MAN): A network that covers a larger geographic area by interconnecting different LANs to form a larger network within a specific geographic area.

  • Personal Area Network (PAN): A network for personal devices (such as phones, computers, tablets, and personal digital assistants) to communicate with each other within a range of about 10 meters.

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): A network that is constructed by using public wires to connect nodes but uses encryption and other security mechanisms to ensure that only authorized users can access the network and that the data cannot be intercepted.

Networking Protocols and Standards

  • Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP): The fundamental suite of protocols that support the internet and most commercial networks.

  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and HTTPS: Protocols used for transferring web pages on the internet. HTTPS includes security measures for online transactions.

  • Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP): Used for sending emails.

  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP): Used for transferring files.

  • 802.11: A set of IEEE standards that cover wireless networking.

Network Topologies

The geometric arrangement of a computer system is known as network topology:

  • Star: All nodes are connected to a central device like a switch or hub.

  • Ring: Each node is connected to two other nodes, forming a ring for signal transmission.

  • Bus: All devices are connected to a single central cable, the bus or backbone.

  • Mesh: Every node is connected to every other node in the network.

Network Services

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Companies that provide subscribers with access to the internet.

  • Cloud Services: Services that provide hosting, storage, software, and processing over the internet.

  • Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): Distributed networks of servers that deliver cached static content from websites to users based on the geographic location of the user.

Network Security

Network security consists of provisions and policies adopted by the network administrator to prevent and monitor unauthorized access, misuse, modification, or denial of the computer network and its resources. This includes a range of security tools like firewalls, anti-malware systems, intrusion detection systems, and encryption protocols.

The Importance of Networks

Networks are critical for the functioning of nearly all computer operations and services today. They allow for the sharing of resources, such as printers and storage, and enable communications through email, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and video conferencing. The internet itself, which has become indispensable for business, government, and personal communications, is essentially a network of networks, connecting millions of computers worldwide.

In the modern world, networks are not only central to the functioning of businesses and economies, but also to the social interactions and access to information for individuals. The continued growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices is making networking increasingly pervasive in our daily lives.