Computer networking has ushered in a new era of capabilities since its first implementation in 1961. Today, nearly every personal computer, handheld device, and even appliance is connected to a local or wide area network. However, in order to get a better understanding of how networking works, one must first appreciate the several components and mechanisms that allow a computer to get connected. In this blog, we will discuss some of the most common computer network devices while briefly introducing how they function.
The hub is the most basic of the networking devices and works to connect different computers or networks. These devices are generally used in a local area network (LAN), as they do not provide as robust of network capabilities as other devices. Hubs are further divided into active, passive, and intelligent devices and are thus explained. Active hubs are the most common of the three and have the unique capability of being a repeater. This means that the hub can strengthen a signal as it passes through, requiring electricity to complete this function. On the other hand, passive hubs do not require an external electricity source and only serve as a connection point. Finally, intelligent hubs provide remote monitoring and management, allowing administrators to receive alerts on any problems and manipulate the individual computers on the network.
Bridges are devices that can split a network into various segments, each with a separate bandwidth, thus increasing the network's performance. Specifically, it decides whether to filter or forward data as it comes in from the sending computer. However, as they generally cost much more than a basic hub, bridges are typically only used for more extensive networks that would benefit from partitioning their aggregate network into smaller LANs. Conversely, bridges can be used to multiply the capacity of individual LANs.
Switches are a more advanced networking device that uses "packet switching" to receive and send data between connected devices. Packet switching involves dividing data into packets, which are smaller segments of a larger message that can be aggregated at the receiving computer. These devices efficiently manage data flow through a network by only sending packets to the computers for which the message is intended. Additionally, switches can be easily connected to other networking devices such as hubs and bridges.
The ubiquitous router manages traffic between two or more packet-switched networks and enables several devices to use the same internet connection. Smaller LANs use either wireless or wired routers to communicate with a modem to connect to the internet. These LAN routers are the most common type, found in nearly every household with an internet connection. Additionally, specialized routers, including core, edge, and virtual types, can be scaled to meet various operational requirements. Core routers are used primarily by networks that send large amounts of data, such as large businesses or universities. An edge router exists at the periphery of a large network and typically connects LANs to the core router. Finally, a virtual router is a software program that allows an individual computer to have the same functionality as a physical router.
Modems have been a mainstay in communication systems for over 60 years. Following their original use in telephone communications, modems found their way into the homes to support the internet infrastructure. Modems work by modulating analog signals sent by cables and phone lines into a digital signal that can be read by a computer. These devices work alongside routers to bring customers Wi-Fi connectivity.
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