How to Set Up a Computer Network

This checklist covers all the things you need to set up basic computer networks. From simple direct connections between computers to complete home networks and even small business networks, learn how to select equipment and configure the systems. In addition to sharing files and Internet access, these networks enable a wide range of networks applications including those for smart homes and the Internet of Things (IoT).

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Planning a Home Computer Network

A smartphone and a wireless network
Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Designing a home network involves taking stock of the computers and other devices you own, but also the ones that you are likely to acquire later. For more, see: Home Network Diagrams.

Home networks can be built using a combination of wired (cabled) and wireless connection. Each connection technology has advantages in some situations. For more, see: Wired vs. Wireless Home Networking - Pros and Cons.

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Buying Network Equipment

Family Sharing a Home Computer
Family Sharing a Home Computer. Getty Images

 A confusing array of choices awaits anyone shopping for network hardware (equipment). Home networks commonly use a device called a broadband router for centralizing and sharing the home's files and Internet connection. Several other kinds of networking equipment may also be added to home networks. See also: Types of Wi-Fi Devices for Home Networks.

Many different brands and models of routers (and other networking products) exist. Some routers are designed for high-traffic networks, some for portability, and some include manageability, advanced security, and other features especially useful for small businesses..Which kinds of routers will work best for you depends on multiple factors. For more, see: How to Choose a Wireless Router.

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Setting Up Home Broadband Routers

Wireless Router Connecting Devices (Concept)
Wireless Router Connecting Devices (Concept). AlexanderZe/Shutterstock

Broadband routers are designed for convenience in setting up home networks, particularly for homes with high-speed Internet service. When set up properly, they simply the process of sharing files and Internet connections plus improve the security of a network. When set up improperly, chaos can ensue. For more, see:

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Sharing Files and Printers

A local network allows efficient transfer of files without the need to carry disks or keys between computers. With only a small additional effort, a printer can also be set up for sharing among multiple computers across a local network.

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Configuring Home Internet Access

Many people build a home network with the goal of sharing Internet access among all of their computers. Connecting an Internet modem to the home network is the typical way to set up shared access.

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Direct Connections Between Computers

The simplest kind of network contains just two computers linked by a point-to-point direct connection. You can use these connections to share access to files, a printer or another peripheral device when a router connection isn't available. So-called ad hoc mode wireless networks allow direct linking of more than two computers.

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Configuring Mobile Internet Access

People increasingly rely on Internet connectivity while traveling for business or pleasure. That often entails connecting to a network owned by someone else. The ability to establish safe and reliable connections to new networks is essential in today's always-connected world. See:

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Working with IP Addresses

Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are the fundamental method for computers to identify themselves on home networks, the Internet and many other networks. Computers, routers, games consoles and other devices connected to an Internet Protocol network each possess their own IP address. Certain special IP addresses are commonly used on local networks.

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Securing Network Devices and Data

Various technologies exist to improve the security of data being shared on computer networks. The ability to reliably back up data across the network is also critical to avoid loss. Some of these security measures require you to take special actions when setting up your network to get maximum protection.