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What is computer networking?

Computer networks have become so pervasive in the society that it is almost impossible to escape them. However, for those lacking the knowledge or technical savvy to use them, they can still seem incredibly daunting and esoteric. The truth is that there is no need for this attitude. Below is a short overview to help non-technical users to learn more about computers and networks.

Home and business networks

Home and business networks, regardless of their size and complexity, really only come in two varieties. Everything else is just a variation on one of these two models. What is a LAN?
A Local Area Network is what most people picture, when they think of a network and is what you will find in most homes and small businesses. Quite simply, there are several computers or other devices linked together to share jobs and information. This can include printers, cameras, PDAs or countless other devices or simply two computers that are linked together. LANs may be hardwired or wireless, but in either case, they do this by using a router to move the appropriate information to the appropriate place. What is a WAN? WANs, or Wide Area Networks, are a little more complicated than LANs and are usually found in large or multi-location businesses. The difference is that while each location will have a separate LAN, they will use the internet to connect the LANs together by forming a larger network that functions as if all the computers are in the same location by ignoring the fact where they may be, in some cases, continents apart. While this is not a completely accurate picture, if it helps to clarify the concept, the internet itself can be thought of as a large WAN. The only practical difference for someone new to computers is that a WAN is a private network, while the internet is public.

The internet

Since the basic networks have been seen as being just computers and other devices linked together, expanding the picture to include the whole internet is simply a matter of scope. For the sake of understanding how it works though, one more concept will be added.
IP addresses Internet protocol addresses are how the internet knows where to send information and they work in a very similar manner to street addresses. When someone wants to deliver a package to a specific address, they consult a map to find it. They may deliver it themselves or hand it off for delivery.
Similarly, when a router (the device which links computers together) needs to deliver a packet of information, it consults an internal map of the network or internet and sends the packet along in the proper direction.

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