Basics of Networking

In our increasingly interconnected digital world it is more and more common that you will be using some kind of network. Whether that is a small Local Area Network in your home or a very large corporate network at your job. Yet many people have no real understanding of the networking principles and equipment that make up these networks. This article will introduce you to the basic concepts of networking and the equipment that makes up a network.

IP ADDRESSES AND DNS

One of the most fundamental aspects of networking is the Internet Protocol address or IP address. Every device on a network is assigned an IP address. This IP address allows it to send and receive data from other devices. With the help of various pieces of networking equipment these devices can be in the same building or on the other side of the world.

An IP address takes the form of four numbers separated by dots. For example, one of Google.com’s current IP addresses is 209.191.218.155. This is the IP address actually assigned to their server. But rather than having to memorize IP addresses the Domain Name Service (DNS) was created. This networking protocol allows you to type a simple website name, such as google.com, into your Internet browser. DNS looks up the IP address and takes you to the website.

Graphic of WWW over a globeAn IP address is the networking equivalent of a phone number. Each device gets one and it allows you to communicate with that device. DNS acts like the phone book for the Internet. It allows you to look up the IP address for a website, even if you have never been there before.

TYPES OF IP ADDRESSES

If you are dealing with a networking issue it can be helpful to know what your IP address is. On an Apple computer if you open “Network Preferences” you can see the IP address assigned to your wireless adapter or your Ethernet port. On a Windows computer open up the command line and run “ipconfig” to get the same information.

The most common type of IP address is a private IP address. These IP addresses are only used inside a network and another networking device, the router, communicates with the outside world. There are three different ranges for IP addresses: 10.0.0.0, 172.16.0.0 – 172.31.0.0, and 192.168.0.0. In each case the zeros can be replaced with any number from 1 to 255. If your computer has a private IP address it successfully connected to the local network.

Sometimes you will see an IP address that looks like 169.254.0.0. If you see that you have a networking problem. That type of IP address is called “self-assigned.” A computer uses a self-assigned IP address when it cannot get a regular IP address. If you see that on your computer you should contact your administrator because something is wrong with your network.
All other IP addresses are public or “routable” IP addresses. In a networking environment these are usually assigned to gateway devices that connect you to the outside world. Some Internet providers do give public IP addresses to their customers’ computer. If you see a public IP address on your computer that is not necessarily a problem.

NETWORKING EQUIPMENT

A variety of ethernet cables for networkingNo discussion of networking equipment would be complete without mentioning the humble Ethernet cable. This simple cable is often brightly colored and looks like a slightly thicker phone cord. Ethernet cables are used to connect various types of networking equipment. You will usually find them connecting you modem to your computer or your wireless router. If you have a networked printer it may also be connected with an Ethernet cable.

The switch is the simplest piece of networking equipment. It allows you to connect multiple devices to each other. The most common use for a switch is to share an Internet connection with more than one computer. You can think of a switch as the networking equivalent of a power strip. Plug the Internet in to one port and plug your other devices into the other ports. If you are looking for a good switch the gigabit capable Intellinet switches are a great choice.

If you want to connect two networks together you are going to encounter the next piece of networking equipment, the router. Routers pass networking traffic back and forth between two networks. The most common use for a router is to connect your home network to your Internet provider. More on that in a minute.

It is a rare household these days that does not have at least one wireless device. Rather than using the traditional Ethernet cable these devices connect to the network using WiFi, a special radio frequency dedicated to networking. To set up WiFi you need a wireless access point. This device plugs into your network and sends out a radio signal that laptops, tablets, and smart phones can connect to.

Wireless router for networkingThose three devices are the basic pieces of networking equipment. The most common networking device combines all three of them into one unit. Meet, the wireless router! Wireless routers route traffic between your local network and your Internet provider. They include Ethernet ports to allow you to connect computers and other devices using an Ethernet cable. They also have a built in wireless access point that allows you to connect mobile devices wirelessly. These jack of all trades networking devices will meet all the needs of most home users. If you are looking to buy a wireless router the TP-Link Archer series is an excellent and affordable choice.

NETWORKING CONCLUSION

Networking is a hugely complex subject with many, many different aspects. This article provided an overview of the basic networking protocols and equipment that the average user may encounter. It should enable you to set up your network or troubleshoot basic networking problems. If you like what you read here there is always more to learn!