Networking For Dummies
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What is networking and what components make up a network? A network is nothing more than two or more computers connected by a cable or by a wireless radio connection so that they can exchange information.

Of course, computers can exchange information in ways other than networks. Most of us have used what computer nerds call the sneakernet. That’s where you copy a file to a flash drive or other portable storage device and then walk the data over to someone else’s computer. (The term sneakernet is typical of computer nerds’ feeble attempts at humor.)

The whole problem with the sneakernet is that it’s slow, and it wears a trail in your carpet. One day, some penny-pinching computer geeks discovered that connecting computers with cables was cheaper than replacing the carpet every six months. Thus, the modern computer network was born.

You can create a simple computer network by hooking together all the computers in your office with networking cables and using the computer’s network interface (an electronic circuit that resides inside your computer and has a special jack on the computer’s backside). Then you tweak a few simple settings in the computer’s operating system (OS) software, and voilà! You have a working network. That’s all there is to it.

If you don’t want to mess with cables, you can create a wireless network instead. In a wireless network, the computers use wireless network adapters that communicate via radio signals. All modern laptop computers have built-in wireless network adapters, as do most desktop computers. (If yours doesn’t, you can purchase a separate wireless network adapter that plugs into one of the computer’s USB ports.)

The image below shows a typical network with four computers. You can see that all four computers are connected by a network cable to a central network device (in this case, a home router). This component, common in small networks, actually consists of three distinct but related network devices:

  • Router: Connects your computers to the Internet
  • Switch: Allows you to connect two or more computers together with cables
  • Wireless access point: Lets you connect computers and other devices to your network without using cables
In the image below, you can see that two computers — Bart’s gaming computer and Homer’s old 1989 computer — are connected via cables to the switch component of the home router. You can also see that Lisa connects her laptop to the network wirelessly. Marge also connects her iPad to the network wirelessly.

You can also see that Homer’s computer has a printer attached to it. Because of the network, Bart, Lisa, and Marge can also use this printer.

Finally, you can see that the entire network is connected to the Internet via the router.

A typical network A typical network.

Computer networking has its own strange vocabulary. Although you don’t have to know every esoteric networking term, it helps to be acquainted with a few of the basic buzzwords:

  • LAN: Networks are often called LANs, short for local area network. In the image above, the LAN consists of the home router and the computers and iPad that are connected to it directly via cable or wirelessly.

    LAN is the first TLA — or three-letter acronym — you’re likely to learn. You don’t really need to remember it or any of the many TLAs that follow. In fact, the only three-letter acronym you need to remember is TLA. You might guess that the acronym for four-letter acronym is FLA. Wrong! A four-letter acronym is an ETLA, which stands for extended three-letter acronym. After all, it just wouldn’t be right if the acronym for four-letter acronym had only three letters.

  • WAN: The second TLA you’re like to encounter is WAN. The WAN is part of the network that connects to the Internet. WAN stands for wide area network. (Okay, fine. Technically, WAN is the third TLA. The first TLA was LAN, and the second TLA was TLA. So that makes WAN the third TLA.)
  • On the network: Every computer connected to the network is said to be “on the network.” The technical term (which you can forget) for a computer that’s on the network is a Another term that’s commonly used to mean the same thing is endpoint.
  • Online, offline: When a computer is turned on and can access the network, the computer is When a computer can’t access the network, it’s offline. A computer can be offline for several reasons. The computer can be turned off, the user may have disabled the network connection, the computer may be broken, the cable that connects it to the network can be unplugged, or a wad of gum can be jammed into the disk drive.
  • Up, down: When a computer is turned on and working properly, it’s When a computer is turned off, broken, or being serviced, it’s down. Turning off a computer is sometimes called taking it down. Turning it back on is sometimes called bringing it up.
  • Local, remote: A resource such as a disk drive is local if it resides in your computer. It’s remote if it resides in another computer somewhere else on your network.
  • Internet: The Internet is a huge amalgamation of computer networks strewn about the entire planet. Networking the computers in your home or office so that they can share information with one another and connecting your computer to the worldwide Internet are two separate but related tasks.

Ready to get started? Check out your next educational steps for a job in networking.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Doug Lowe is the bestselling author of Networking For Dummies and Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies. His 50+ books include more than 30 in the For Dummies series. He has demystified everything from Microsoft Office and memory management to client/server computing and creating web pages.

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