What is a LAN?

Local Area Networks Explained

LAN cables in hubs and routers
Mongkol Nitirojsakul/EyeEm/Getty

Definition: LAN stands for Local Area Network. It is a relatively small network (compared to a WAN) covering small areas like a room, an office, a building, a campus etc.

Most LANs today run under Ethernet, which is a protocol that controls how data is transferred between one machine to another on the network. However, with the advent of wireless network, more and more LANs are becoming wireless and are known as WLANs, wireless local area networks.

the main protocol governing connection and transfer between WLANs is the well-known WiFi protocol. Wireless LANs can also run with Bluetooth technology, but it is quite limited. 

If you connect two computers for sharing data, you have a LAN. The number of computers connected on a LAN may be up to several hundreds, but most of the time, LANs are made up of more or less a dozen machines, as the idea behind a LAN is to cover a small area. 

To connect two computers, you may only link them using a cable. If you want to connect more, then you need a special device called a hub, which acts like a distribution and link point. Cables from the different computers’ LAN cards meet at the hub. If you want to connect your LAN to the Internet or to a wide area network, then you need a router instead of a hub. Using a hub is the most common and easiest way of setting up a LAN. There are however other network layouts, called topologies.

Read more on topologies and network design at this link.

You don’t necessarily have only computers on a LAN. You can also connect printers and other devices which you can share. For instance, if you connect a printer on a LAN and configure it to be shared among all users on the LAN, print jobs can be sent to that printer from all computers on the LAN.

Why Do We Use LANs?

There are several reasons for which companies and organizations invest on LANs in their premises.Among them are: 

  • Faster communication and sharing of files and other resources among workers and collaborators. 
  • Contralization of information systems. For example, in a hospital, a LAN will allow one central database to be accessed from all departments such that there is no duplication of data, there is no redundency, and more importantly there is perfect consistency in data. 
  • LANs allow expensive hardware to be shared, as explained above. 
  • LANs allow users to share software licences, for uniformity and cost saving. 

Requirements For Setting Up a LAN

  • Computers and devices equipped with the proper NIC (network interface cards). For example, and Ethernet LAN will required all devices to have Ethernet cards or adapters for the cable to connect. WiFi network requires all devices to have a WiFi adapter. 
  • A central device, such as a hub, router, bridge or gateway. 
  • Connecting cables in case the LAN is wired. 
  • LAN management software. Modern operating system already have utility software for proper management of networks. 

More From Us