Peer-to-peer networking is composed of two parts: the hardware, and the software. Networking is about communications and the sharing of resources. Networking is about the desire to move information from one computer into another computer.

Information being sent and received among various computers smacks of communications, and that’s the basis of a computer network. It all happens in such a manner that information destined for one computer arrives at the computer intact and accurate, and the sending computer knows that the information was received.

The result of the communications is the sharing of resources. Your PC can share several resources on a computer network:

Mass storage: Hard drives, optical drives, and other types of storage can be shared and used by others on the network. Networking provides a solution whereby you don’t need to copy files to removable media and walk them between computers — the sneakernet.

Media files: Another resource you can share between PCs on a network is your music, picture, and video files. Windows Media Player, as well as Apple’s iTunes and other media jukeboxes, can be accessed and their media libraries shared over a simple computer network.

Printers: There’s no need for every PC on the network to have its own printer when you can have one key printer on the network.

Modems: everyone on the network can share a single modem. In fact, high-speed modems must connect to your computer by using the network interface.

That’s pretty much the networking philosophy. The methods by which computers are networked became standardized in the early 1990s, at just about the same time the Internet exploded on the scene. Conveniently, the Internet is also a network.

The protocols and methods for networking are referred to as Ethernet. It’s the networking standard used by the Internet and by all local networks. Before that time, computer networks could use a number of different networking schemes, both hardware and software. But with Ethernet, nearly all computer networking has become standard.

  • Mass storage resources consist of folders you can access on other computers. Additionally, there can be stand-alone network hard drives, up for grabs by anyone using the network.

  • Windows Media Player version 11 and later can share your media files with other PCs running copies of Windows Media Player. A teensy icon in the notification area alerts you to the presence of other PCs sharing their Windows Media Player libraries.

  • Only the folders you elect to share are available for others to use on the network. A level of security is provided by password protection as well as by read-only access.

  • Even when you have only one computer and a broadband modem, you technically have a network set up.