Networking Fundamentals

Computer and Wireless Networking Basics

Here's a look at the types of designs, equipment, protocols and other technologies essential to building computer networks. Learn how home and other private networks, public hotspots and the Internet function.

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Fundamental Computer Networks Concepts

 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.

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Types of Computer Networks

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 ontopology or on the types of protocols they support.

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Types of Network Equipment

 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.

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Ethernet

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.

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Wireless Local Area Networking

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 networks 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.

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Internet Service

The technologies used to connect to the Internet are different than those used for connecting devices on local area network. DSL, cable modem 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.

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TCP/IP and Other Internet Protocols

 TCP/IP is the primary network protocol of the Internet. 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.

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Network Routing, Switching and Bridging

Most computer networks direct messages from source to destination devices using any of three techniques called 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.