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A computer network, often simply referred to as a network, is a collection of computers and devices connected by communications channels that facilitates communications among users and allows users to share resources with other users. Networks may be classified according to a wide variety of characteristics. This article provides a general overview of types and categories and also presents the basic components of a network.

Contents

Introduction

A computer network allows sharing of resources and information among devices connected to the network. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) funded the design of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) for the United States Department of Defense. It was the first operational computer network in the world.[1] Development of the network began in 1969, based on designs developed during the 1960s. For a history see ARPANET, the first network.

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Purpose

  • Facilitating communications. Using a network, people can communicate efficiently and easily via e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, telephony, video telephone calls, and videoconferencing.
  • Sharing hardware. In a networked environment, each computer on a network can access and use hardware on the network. Suppose several personal computers on a network each require the use of a laser printer. If the personal computers and a laser printer are connected to a network, each user can then access the laser printer on the network, as they need it.
  • Sharing files, data, and information. In a network environment, any authorized user can access data and information stored on other computers on the network. The capability of providing access to data and information on shared storage devices is an important feature of many networks.
  • Sharing software. Users connected to a network can access application programs on the network.

Network classification

The following list presents categories used for classifying networks.

Connection method

Computer networks can be classified according to the hardware and software technology that is used to interconnect the individual devices in the network, such as optical fiber, Ethernet, Wireless LAN, HomePNA, Power line communication or G.hn.

Ethernet uses physical wiring to connect devices. Frequently deployed devices include hubs, switches, bridges and/or routers. Wireless LAN technology is designed to connect devices without wiring. These devices use radio waves or infrared signals as a transmission medium. ITU-T G.hn technology uses existing home wiring (coaxial cable, phone lines and power lines) to create a high-speed (up to 1 Gigabit/s) local area network.

Wired technologies

  • Twisted pair wire is the most widely used medium for telecommunication. Twisted-pair wires are ordinary telephone wires which consist of two insulated copper wires twisted into pairs and are used for both voice and data transmission. The use of two wires twisted together helps to reduce crosstalk and electromagnetic induction. The transmission speed ranges from 2 million bits per second to 100 million bits per second.
  • Coaxial cable is widely used for cable television systems, office buildings, and other worksites for local area networks. The cables consist of copper or aluminum wire wrapped with insulating layer typically of a flexible material with a high dielectric constant, all of which are surrounded by a conductive layer. The layers of insulation help minimize interference and distortion. Transmission speed range from 200 million to more than 500 million bits per second.
  • Optical fiber cable consists of one or more filaments of glass fiber wrapped in protective layers. It transmits light which can travel over extended distances without signal loss. Fiber-optic cables are not affected by electromagnetic radiation. Transmission speed may reach trillions of bits per second. The transmission speed of fiber optics is hundreds of times faster than for coaxial cables and thousands of times faster than for twisted-pair wire.

Wireless technologies

  • Terrestrial Microwave – Terrestrial microwaves use Earth-based transmitter and receiver. The equipment look similar to satellite dishes. Terrestrial microwaves use low-gigahertz range, which limits all communications to line-of-sight. Path between relay stations spaced approx. 30 miles apart. Microwave antennas are usually placed on top of buildings, towers, hills, and mountain peaks.
  • Communications Satellites – The satellites use microwave radio as their telecommunications medium which are not deflected by the Earth's atmosphere. The satellites are stationed in space, typically 22,000 miles above the equator. These Earth-orbiting systems are capable of receiving and relaying voice, data, and TV signals.
  • Cellular and PCS Systems – Use several radio communications technologies. The systems are divided to different geographic area. Each area has low-power transmitter or radio relay antenna device to relay calls from one area to the next area.
  • Wireless LANs – Wireless local area network use a high-frequency radio technology similar to digital cellular and a low-frequency radio technology. Wireless LANs use spread spectrum technology to enable communication between multiple devices in a limited area. An example of open-standards wireless radio-wave technology is IEEE 802.11b.
  • Bluetooth – A short range wireless technology. Operate at approx. 1Mbps with range from 10 to 100 meters. Bluetooth is an open wireless protocol for data exchange over short distances.
  • The Wireless Web – The wireless web refers to the use of the World Wide Web through equipments like cellular phones, pagers,PDAs, and other portable communications devices. The wireless web service offers anytime/anywhere connection.

Scale

Networks are often classified as local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), metropolitan area network (MAN), personal area network (PAN), virtual private network (VPN), campus area network (CAN), storage area network (SAN), and others, depending on their scale, scope and purpose. Usage, trust level, and access right often differ between these types of network. For example, LANs tend to be designed for internal use by an organization's internal systems and employees in individual physical locations (such as a building), while WANs may connect physically separate parts of an organization and may include connections to third parties.

Functional relationship (network architecture)

Computer networks may be classified according to the functional relationships which exist among the elements of the network, e.g., active networking, client-server and peer-to-peer (workgroup) architecture.

Network topology

Computer networks may be classified according to the network topology upon which the network is based, such as bus network, star network, ring network, mesh network, star-bus network, tree or hierarchical topology network. Network topology is the coordination by which devices in the network are arrange in their logical relations to one another, independent of physical arrangement. Even if networked computers are physically placed in a linear arrangement and are connected to a hub, the network has a star topology, rather than a bus topology. In this regard the visual and operational characteristics of a network are distinct. Networks may be classified based on the method of data used to convey the data, these include digital and analog networks.

Types of networks

Common types of computer networks may be identified by their scale.

Personal area network

A personal area network (PAN) is a computer network used for communication among computer and different information technological devices close to one person. Some examples of devices that are used in a PAN are personal computers, printers, fax machines, telephones, PDAs, scanners, and even video game consoles. A PAN may include wired and wireless connections between devices. The reach of a PAN typically extends to 10 meters.[2] Wired PAN network is usually constructed with USB and Firewire while wireless with Bluetooth and Infrared.[3]

Local area network

A local area network (LAN) is a network that connects computers and devices in a limited geographical area such as home, school, computer laboratory, office building, or closely positioned group of buildings. Each computer or device on the network is a node. Current wired LANs are most likely to be based on Ethernet technology, although new standards like ITU-T G.hn also provide a way to create a wired LAN using existing home wires (coaxial cables, phone lines and power lines)[4].

Typical library network, in a branching tree topology and controlled access to resources

All interconnected devices must understand the network layer (layer 3), because they are handling multiple subnets (the different colors). Those inside the library, which have only 10/100 Mbit/s Ethernet connections to the user device and a Gigabit Ethernet connection to the central router, could be called "layer 3 switches" because they only have Ethernet interfaces and must understand IP. It would be more correct to call them access routers, where the router at the top is a distribution router that connects to the Internet and academic networks' customer access routers.

The defining characteristics of LANs, in contrast to WANs (Wide Area Networks), include their higher data transfer rates, smaller geographic range, and no need for leased telecommunication lines. Current Ethernet or other IEEE 802.3 LAN technologies operate at speeds up to 10 Gbit/s. This is the data transfer rate. IEEE has projects investigating the standardization of 40 and 100 Gbit/s.[5]

Home area network

A home area network is a residential LAN which is used for communication between digital devices typically deployed in the home, usually a small number of personal computers and accessories, such as printers and mobile computing devices. An important function is the sharing of Internet access, often a broadband service through a CATV or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) provider.

Campus area network

A campus area network (CAN) is a computer network made up of an interconnection of local area networks (LANs) within a limited geographical area. It can be considered one form of a metropolitan area network, specific to an academic setting.

In the case of a university campus-based campus area network, the network is likely to link a variety of campus buildings including; academic departments, the university library and student residence halls. A campus area network is larger than a local area network but smaller than a wide area network (WAN) (in some cases).

The main aim of a campus area network is to facilitate students accessing internet and university resources. This is a network that connects two or more LANs but that is limited to a specific and contiguous geographical area such as a college campus, industrial complex, office building, or a military base. A CAN may be considered a type of MAN (metropolitan area network), but is generally limited to a smaller area than a typical MAN. This term is most often used to discuss the implementation of networks for a contiguous area. This should not be confused with a Controller Area Network. A LAN connects network devices over a relatively short distance. A networked office building, school, or home usually contains a single LAN, though sometimes one building will contain a few small LANs (perhaps one per room), and occasionally a LAN will span a group of nearby buildings.

Metropolitan area network

A metropolitan area network (MAN) is a network that connects two or more local area networks or campus area networks together but does not extend beyond the boundaries of the immediate town/city. Routers, switches and hubs are connected to create a metropolitan area network.

Wide area network

A wide area network (WAN) is a computer network that covers a large geographic area such as a city, country, or spans even intercontinental distances, using a communications channel that combines many types of media such as telephone lines, cables, and air waves. A WAN often uses transmission facilities provided by common carriers, such as telephone companies. WAN technologies generally function at the lower three layers of the OSI reference model: the physical layer, the data link layer, and the network layer.

Global area network

A global area network (GAN) is a network used for supporting mobile communications across an arbitrary number of wireless LANs, satellite coverage areas, etc. The key challenge in mobile communications is handing off the user communications from one local coverage area to the next. In IEEE Project 802, this involves a succession of terrestrial WIRELESS local area networks (WLAN).[6]

Virtual private network

A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network in which some of the links between nodes are carried by open connections or virtual circuits in some larger network (e.g., the Internet) instead of by physical wires. The data link layer protocols of the virtual network are said to be tunneled through the larger network when this is the case. One common application is secure communications through the public Internet, but a VPN need not have explicit security features, such as authentication or content encryption. VPNs, for example, can be used to separate the traffic of different user communities over an underlying network with strong security features.

A VPN may have best-effort performance, or may have a defined service level agreement (SLA) between the VPN customer and the VPN service provider. Generally, a VPN has a topology more complex than point-to-point.

A VPN allows computer users to appear to be editing from an IP address location other than the one which connects the actual computer to the Internet.

Internetwork

An Internetwork is the connection of two or more distinct computer networks via a common routing technology. The result is called an internetwork (often shortened to internet). Two or more networks connect using devices that operate at the Network Layer (Layer 3) of the OSI Basic Reference Model, such as a router. Any interconnection among or between public, private, commercial, industrial, or governmental networks may also be defined as an internetwork.

Internet

The Internet is a global system of interconnected governmental, academic, public, and private computer networks. It is based on the networking technologies of the Internet Protocol Suite. It is the successor of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) developed by DARPA of the U.S. Department of Defense. The Internet is also the communications backbone underlying the World Wide Web (WWW). The 'Internet' is most commonly spelled with a capital 'I' as a proper noun, for historical reasons and to distinguish it from other generic internetworks.

Participants in the Internet use a diverse array of methods of several hundred documented, and often standardized, protocols compatible with the Internet Protocol Suite and an addressing system (IP Addresses) administered by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and address registries. Service providers and large enterprises exchange information about the reachability of their address spaces through the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), forming a redundant worldwide mesh of transmission paths.

Intranets and extranets

Intranets and extranets are parts or extensions of a computer network, usually a local area network.

An intranet is a set of networks, using the Internet Protocol and IP-based tools such as web browsers and file transfer applications, that is under the control of a single administrative entity. That administrative entity closes the intranet to all but specific, authorized users. Most commonly, an intranet is the internal network of an organization. A large intranet will typically have at least one web server to provide users with organizational information.

An extranet is a network that is limited in scope to a single organization or entity and also has limited connections to the networks of one or more other usually, but not necessarily, trusted organizations or entities (e.g., a company's customers may be given access to some part of its intranet creating in this way an extranet, while at the same time the customers may not be considered 'trusted' from a security standpoint). Technically, an extranet may also be categorized as a CAN, MAN, WAN, or other type of network, although, by definition, an extranet cannot consist of a single LAN; it must have at least one connection with an external network.

Basic hardware components

All networks are made up of basic hardware building blocks to interconnect network nodes, such as Network Interface Cards (NICs), Bridges, Hubs, Switches, and Routers. In addition, some method of connecting these building blocks is required, usually in the form of galvanic cable (most commonly Category 5 cable). Less common are microwave links (as in IEEE 802.12) or optical cable ("optical fiber"). An Ethernet card may also be required.

Network interface cards

A network card, network adapter, or NIC (network interface card) is a piece of computer hardware designed to allow computers to communicate over a computer network. It provides physical access to a networking medium and often provides a low-level addressing system through the use of MAC addresses.

Repeaters

A repeater is an electronic device that receives a signal, cleans it from the unnecessary noise, regenerates it and retransmits it at a higher power level, or to the other side of an obstruction, so that the signal can cover longer distances without degradation. In most twisted pair Ethernet configurations, repeaters are required for cable which runs longer than 100 meters.

Hubs

A network hub contains multiple ports. When a packet arrives at one port, it is copied unmodified to all ports of the hub for transmission. The destination address in the frame is not changed to a broadcast address.[7]

Bridges

A network bridge connects multiple network segments at the data link layer (layer 2) of the OSI model. Bridges do send broadcasts to all ports except the one on which the broadcast was received. However, bridges do not promiscuously copy traffic to all ports, as hubs do, but learn which MAC addresses are reachable through specific ports. Once the bridge associates a port and an address, it will send traffic for that address to that port only.

Bridges learn the association of ports and addresses by examining the source address of frames that it sees on various ports. Once a frame arrives through a port, its source address is stored and the bridge assumes that MAC address is associated with that port. The first time that a previously unknown destination address is seen, the bridge will forward the frame to all ports other than the one on which the frame arrived.

Bridges come in three basic types:

  • Local bridges: Directly connect local area networks (LANs)
  • Remote bridges: Can be used to create a wide area network (WAN) link between LANs. Remote bridges, where the connecting link is slower than the end networks, largely have been replaced with routers.
  • Wireless bridges: Can be used to join LANs or connect remote stations to LANs

Switches

A network switch is a device that forwards and filters OSI layer 2 datagrams (chunk of data communication) between ports (connected cables) based on the MAC addresses in the packets.[8] This is distinct from a hub in that it only forwards the frames to the ports involved in the communication rather than all ports connected. A switch breaks the collision domain but represents itself a broadcast domain. Switches make forwarding decisions of frames on the basis of MAC addresses. A switch normally has numerous ports, facilitating a star topology for devices, and cascading additional switches.[9] Some switches are capable of routing based on Layer 3 addressing or additional logical levels; these are called multi-layer switches. The term switch is used loosely in marketing to encompass devices including routers and bridges, as well as devices that may distribute traffic on load or by application content (e.g., a Web URL identifier).

Routers

A router is a networking device that forwards packets between networks using information in protocol headers and forwarding tables to determine the best next router for each packet.

See also

References

 This article incorporates public domain material from the General Services Administration document "Federal Standard 1037C".

Further reading

  • Shelly, Gary, et. al. "Discovering Computers" 2003 Edition


Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Topic:Computer networks article)

From Wikiversity

Welcome to the Department of Computer Networks!
Also Part of Engineering and Technology
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Please edit this page to improve it. See this module's talk page for discussion.

Computer networking is the scientific and engineering discipline concerned with communication between computer systems. Such networks involve at least two devices capable of being networked with at least one usually being a computer. The devices can be separated by a few meters (e.g. via Bluetooth) or thousands of kilometers (e.g. via the Internet). Computer networking is sometimes considered a sub-discipline of telecommunications.

Computer networking can be examined from either the 7 layer OSI Model, or the 4 layer TCP/IP Model

Contents

Introduction

Crude, but effective

Networking is the practice of enabling and harnessing the transmission of data from one computer system to another. A crude analogy of a data network is pictured at right: two tin cans connected by a simple string. Note that what this basic analogy suggests holds true for actual implementations of data networks:

  • The network exists merely as a medium for communications of some kind, across it
  • A protocol of some form is needed to initiate and carry on conversations (this is not intrinsic to the network itself)
  • The same protocol (a spoken language) can also be used with different media for the same purpose; different networks have different advantages and uses

A network may require one engineer to design it, another engineer to build it, and another engineer entirely to administer it. The skills needed for each stage in the process are related but not necessarily dependent; hence, Networking is interdisciplinary. The distinction between Networking and Computer Science in general is difficult to precisely define; it is better perhaps to consider that Networking grew out of Computer Science, because of a need to extend the existing capabilities of a computer (which includes data transmission) across large distances and with other unlike systems. However, an extensive background in Computer Science is not necessary to study or even practice Networking. A Network Engineer is a qualified individual who works with networks of some form, but the scope of that work and the skills required may be as diverse - even from one job to the next - as those of any scientist.

Courses

Networking is the practice of enabling and harnessing the transmission of data from one computer system to another. The TCP/IP model is used in teaching the following sequence of courses.

  1. Introduction to Networking
  2. TCP/IP Fundamentals
  3. Application Layer
  4. Transport Layer
  5. Internet Layer
  6. Link Layer
  7. Local Area Networks
  8. Mobile Networks
  9. Network Security
  10. Network Administration
  11. Pursuing network certification

OSI Seven Layer Model

The alternative OSI layer can be studied here.

  • Layer 7, the Application layer, provides service directly related to the applications. Those services vary on applications.
  • Layer 6, the Presentation layer, format the data to look like common for all applications
  • Layer 5, the Session Layer, establishes a connection between two nodes. Deal with, whether the connection is full duplex, half duplex etc.
  • Layer 4, Transport layer, handles and delivers data, whenever it is connection-oriented or connectionless. It includes some flow control issues.
  • Layer 3, Network Layer, establishes the connection between two nodes, using the IP addressing.
  • Layer 2, the Data Link Layer, frames data and provides low-level flow control
  • Layer 1, Physical layer, transmits low bitstreats (data), deals with electrical singalling, cabling and hardware interface.

Each topic includes an outline, suggested activities and links to useful resources. They are constructed for self-study, but should be adaptable to a group environment.

Active Participants

The histories of Wikiversity pages indicate who the active participants are. If you are an active participant in this school, you can list your name here (this can help small schools grow and the participants communicate better; for large schools it is not needed).

As of 10/11/2009

  • lysander89
  • ghamerhussain
  • sanchezda

Research projects

This feature of Wikiversity will be implemented later pending further discussion.

External Resources

Wikibooks-logo-en.svg Wikibooks has more on the topic of Computer networks.

Simple English


A computer network is a group of two or more computers connected to each electronically. This means that the computers can "talk" to each other and that every computer in the network can send information to the others. Usually, this means that the speed of the connection is fast - faster than a normal connection to the Internet. Some basic types of computer networks include:

  • A local area network (often called a LAN) connects two or more computers, and may be called a corporate network in an office or business setting.
  • An "internetwork", sometimes called a Wide Area Network (because of the wide distance between networks) connects two or more smaller networks together. The largest internetwork is called the Internet.

Computers can be part of several different networks. Networks can also be parts of bigger networks. The local area network in a small business is usually connected to the corporate network of the larger company. Any connected machine at any level of the organization may be able to access the Internet, for example to demonstrate computers in the store, display its catalogue through a web server, or convert received orders into shipping instructions.

Microsoft Windows, Linux and most other operating systems use TCP/IP for networking. Apple Macintosh computers used Appletalk in the past, but it uses TCP/IP now.

To set up a network an appropriate media is required. This can be wired or wireless. Twisted-pair, co-axial or fiber-optic are examples of cable and infra-red, blue-tooth, radio-wave, micro-wave etc. are wireless media used for networking. When you are working with a mere LAN, computers, media and peripherals are sufficient. But when you are working with a wider range you have use some additional devices like bridge, gateway or router to connect different small or large networks. And obviously a protocol must be maintained.

To set up a network you have to select an appropriate topology to arrange the hardware devices using the media. Topologies generally used are bus-topology, ring-topology, star-topology, tree-topology, object-oriented topology etc. Among these star-topology and tree-topology are most popular now a days.


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