Computer networking is defined as a system that connects two or more computing devices for transmitting and sharing information. This article explains computer network in detail, along with its types and components.

What is Computer Networking?

Computer networking refers to connected computing devices (such as laptops, desktops, servers, smartphones, and tablets) and an ever-expanding array of IoT devices (such as cameras, door locks, doorbells, refrigerators, audio/visual systems, thermostats, and various sensors) that communicate with one another.

How does it work?

In basic terms, computer networking refers to devices and systems that are linked together to share information and resources. These systems are connected by cables (wired) or wi-fi (wireless). Networks are built using hardware and software and in different configurations depending on the needs of the users.

For example, a LAN (local area network) connects computers in a small space like an office or home, while a WAN (wide area network) can connect computers across continents.

As a networking professional, your job is to establish, operate, and maintain these networks. You might work for a company or organization that uses networking for daily operations. Or you might be employed by an IT services company and contracted out to help various clients install and maintain their networks. More on job options next.

computer networking

How is computer networking evolving?

Modern-day networks deliver more than connectivity. Organizations are embarking on transforming themselves digitally. Their networks are critical to this transformation and to their success. The types of network architectures that are evolving to meet these needs are as follows:

  • Software-defined  (SDN): In response to new requirements in the “digital” age, network architecture is becoming more programmable, automated, and open. In software-defined networks, routing of traffic is controlled centrally through software-based mechanisms. This helps the network to react quickly to changing conditions.
  • Intent-based: Building on SDN principles, intent-based networking (IBN) not only introduces agility but also sets up a network to achieve desired objectives by automating operations extensively, analyzing its performance, pinpointing problematic areas, providing all-around security, and integrating with business processes.
  • Virtualized: The underlying physical network infrastructure can be partitioned logically, to create multiple “overlay” networks. Each of these logical networks can be tuned to meet specific security, quality-of-service (QoS), and other requirements.
  • Controller-based: Network controllers are crucial to scaling and securing networks. Controllers automate networking functions by translating business intent to device configurations, and they monitor devices continuously to help ensure performance and security. Controllers simplify operations and help organizations respond to changing business requirements.
  • Multidomain integrations: Larger enterprises may construct separate networks, also called networking domains, for their offices, WANs, and data centers. These networks communicate with one another through their controllers. Such cross-network, or multidomain, integrations generally involve exchanging relevant operating parameters to help ensure that desired business outcomes that span network domains are achieved.

Types of Computer Networks

The different types of computer network types are reflective of the purpose and geographic area they’re intended to cover. Here are the most common computer network types, ordered from smallest range to widest range:

  • Personal area network (PAN) – A network (wireless or non-wireless) in which an individual’s device is the center of the network with other devices connected to it
  • Local area network (LAN) – A network that covers a limited area, such as a home, office or school
  • Campus area network (CAN) – A network that covers a set of buildings that are closer together, typically a government agency, university, corporation or organization
  • Enterprise private networks (EPN) – A network used by a company to connect its various sites in different locations in order to share resources
  • Metropolitan area network (MAN) – A series of LANs within a metropolitan area, typically a city, that is sometimes connected to a wide area network (WAN)
  • Wide area network (WAN) – A network that covers a large geographical area, typically with a radius of more than a kilometer
  • Global area network (GAN) – A network that reaches world-wide, connecting networks all over the globe (the internet, for example)

Networking Devices

Basic hardware interconnecting network nodes, such as Network Interface Cards (NICs), Bridges, Hubs, Switches, and Routers, are used in all networks. In addition, a mechanism of connecting these building parts is necessary, which is usually galvanic cable and optical cable are less popular (“optical fiber”)The following are the network devices :

  • NIC (Network Interface Card): A network card, often known as a network adapter or NIC (network interface card), is computer hardware that enables computers to communicate via a network. It offers physical access to networking media and, in many cases, MAC addresses serve as a low-level addressing scheme. Each network interface card has a distinct identifier. This is stored on a chip that is attached to the card.
  • Repeater: A repeater is an electrical device that receives a signal, cleans it of unwanted noise, regenerates it, and retransmits it at a higher power level or to the opposite side of an obstruction, allowing the signal to travel greater distances without degradation. In the majority of twisted pair Ethernet networks, Repeaters are necessary for cable lengths longer than 100 meters in some systems. Repeaters are based on physics.
  • Hub: A hub is a device that joins together many twisted pair or fiber optic Ethernet devices to give the illusion as a formation of a single network segment. The device can be visualized as a multiport repeater. A network hub is a relatively simple broadcast device. Any packet entering any port is regenerated and broadcast out on all other ports, and hubs do not control any of the traffic that passes through them. Packet collisions occur as a result of every packet being sent out through all other ports, substantially impeding the smooth flow of communication.
  • Bridges: Bridges broadcast data to all the ports but not on the one that received the transmission. Bridges, on the other hand, learn which MAC addresses are reachable through specific ports rather than copying messages to all ports as hubs do. Once a port and an address are associated, the bridge will only transport traffic for that address to that port.
  • Switches: A switch differs from a hub in that it only forwards frames to the ports that are participating in the communication, rather than all of the ports that are connected. The collision domain is broken by a switch, yet the switch depicts itself as a broadcast domain. Frame forwarding decisions are made by switches based on MAC addresses.
  • Routers: Routers are networking devices that use headers and forwarding tables to find the optimal way to forward data packets between networks. A router is a computer networking device that links two or more computer networks and selectively exchanges data packets between them. A router can use address information in each data packet to determine if the source and destination are on the same network or if the data packet has to be transported between networks. When numerous routers are deployed in a wide collection of interconnected networks, the routers share target system addresses so that each router can develop a table displaying the preferred pathways between any two systems on the associated networks.
  • Gateways: To provide system compatibility, a gateway may contain devices such as protocol translators, impedance matching devices, rate converters, fault isolators, or signal translators. It also necessitates the development of administrative procedures that are acceptable to both networks. By completing the necessary protocol conversions, a protocol translation/mapping gateway joins networks that use distinct network protocol technologies.

What is the Future of Computer Networking?

Companies and organizations are undergoing a significant paradigm shift post-pandemic as they work towards fully digitizing their businesses. As a result, modern-day networks are becoming increasingly critical components for business continuity and consistent user experience. With an increase in available IoT devices and increased traffic as more businesses do more online, data and traffic volume management has become a growing concern.

Computer networks are evolving in numerous ways in order to meet these needs. Some trends include automating traffic routing and operations for greater business agility, automating network performance for improved outcomes, performing automated security analysis to protect against threats and scaling networks by virtualizing aspects of network infrastructure.

Computer networking is trending toward a future that is heavily automated, relying on bots and other automation technology for efficient and effective network deployment and management. Being able to identify operational inefficiencies and solve for them using automated technology may be invaluable skillsets for those thinking about pursuing a career in computer networking today.