You are on page 1of 22

Basics of Computer Networks

1 Introduction
A computer network or data network is a telecommunications network that allows
computers to exchange data. In computer networks, networked computing devices pass data to
each other along data connections. Data is transferred in the form of packets. The connections
(network links) between nodes are established using either cable media or wireless media. The
best-known computer network is the Internet.
Network computer devices that originate, route and terminate the data are called network
nodes. Nodes can include hosts such as personal computers, phones, servers as well as
networking hardware. Two such devices are said to be networked together when one device is
able to exchange information with the other device, whether or not they have a direct connection
to each other.
Arguably, the greatest advancement in technology and communication over the past 20
years has been the development and advancement of the computer network. From emailing a
friend to on-line bill paying to downloading data off the Internet to e-commerce, networking has
made our world much smaller and changed the way we communicate forever.
Thus a network can be defined as,
network: [net-wurk] noun, a system containing any combination of computers,
computer terminals, printers, audio or visual display devices, or telephones interconnected by
telecommunication equipment or cables: used to transmit or receive information.

Page | 1

Basics of Computer Networks

2 TYPES OF NETWORKS
LAN and WAN were the original categories of area networks, while the others have
gradually emerged over many years of technology evolution.
Note that these network types are a separate concept from network topologies such as
bus, ring and star.

LAN - Local Area Network


A LAN connects network devices over a relatively short distance. A networked
office building, school, or home usually contains a single LAN, though sometimes
one building will contain a few small LANs (perhaps one per room), and occasionally
a LAN will span a group of nearby buildings. In TCP/IP networking, a LAN is often but
not always implemented as a single IP subnet.

In addition to operating in a limited space, LANs are also typically owned, controlled,
and managed by a single person or organization. They also tend to use certain connectivity
technologies, primarily Ethernet and Token Ring.

WAN - Wide Area Network


As the term implies, a WAN spans a large physical distance. The Internet is the largest
WAN, spanning the Earth.
A WAN is a geographically-dispersed collection of LANs. A network device called a
router connects LANs to a WAN. In IP networking, the router maintains both a LAN address and
a WAN address.
A WAN differs from a LAN in several important ways. Most WANs (like the Internet)
are not owned by any one organization but rather exist under collective or distributed ownership
and management. WANs tend to use technology like ATM, Frame Relay and X.25 for
connectivity over the longer distances.

Metropolitan Area Network

Page | 2

Basics of Computer Networks


A network spanning a physical area larger than a LAN but smaller than a WAN, such as a
city. A MAN is typically owned and operated by a single entity such as a government body or
large corporation.

Virtual private network (VPN)


A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network,
such as the Internet. It enables a computer or Wi-Fi-enabled device to send and receive data
across shared or public networks as if it were directly connected to the private network, while
benefiting from the functionality, security and management policies of the private network. A
VPN is created by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated
connections, virtual tunnelling protocols, or traffic encryptions.
A VPN connection across the Internet is similar to a wide area network (WAN) link
between websites. From a user perspective, the extended network resources are accessed in the
same way as resources available within the private network.
VPNs allow employees to securely access their company's intranet while traveling
outside the office. Similarly, VPNs securely connect geographically separated offices of an
organization, creating one cohesive network. VPN technology is also used by individual Internet
users to secure their wireless transactions and to connect to proxy servers for the purpose of
protecting personal identity and location.

Intranet
An intranet is a computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to share
information, operational systems, or computing services within an organization. This term is
used in contrast to extranet, a network between organizations, and instead refers to a network
within an organization. Sometimes, the term refers only to the organization's internal website,
but may be a more extensive part of the organization's information technology infrastructure,
and may be composed of multiple local area networks. The objective is to organize each
individual's desktop with minimal cost, time and effort to be more productive, cost efficient,
timely, and competitive.
An intranet may host multiple private websites and constitute an important component
and focal point of internal communication and collaboration. Any of the well known Internet

Page | 3

Basics of Computer Networks


protocols may be found in an intranet, such as HTTP (web services), SMTP (e-mail), and FTP
(file transfer protocol). Internet technologies are often deployed to provide modern interfaces to
legacy information systems hosting corporate data.
An intranet can be understood as a private analog of the Internet, or as a private
extension of the Internet confined to an organization. The first intranet websites and home pages
were published in 1991, and began to appear in non-educational organizations in 1994.
Intranets are sometimes contrasted to extranets. While intranets are generally restricted to
employees of the organization, extranets may also be accessed by customers, suppliers, or other
approved parties. Extranets extend a private network onto the Internet with special provisions
for authentication, authorization and accounting (AAA protocol).
In many organizations, intranets are protected from unauthorized external access by
means of a network gateway and firewall. For smaller companies, intranets may be created
simply by using private IP address ranges. In these cases, the intranet can only be directly
accessed from a computer in the local network; however, companies may provide access to offsite employees by using a virtual private network, or by other access methods, requiring user
authentication and encryption.

Extranet
An extranet is a computer network that allows controlled access from outside of an
organization's intranet. Extranets are used for specific use cases including business-to-business
(B2B). In a business-to-business context, an extranet can be viewed as an extension of an
organization's intranet that is extended to users outside the organization, usually partners,
vendors and suppliers, in isolation from all other Internet users. It is in context of that isolation
that an extranet is different from an intranet or internet. In contrast, business-to-consumer (B2C)
models involve known servers of one or more companies, communicating with previously
unknown consumer users. An extranet is similar to a DMZ in that it provides access to needed
services for channel partners, without granting access to an organization's entire network.

Page | 4

Basics of Computer Networks

3 BENEFITS OF A NETWORK
The benefits of networking (either wired or wireless) in homes are:
File sharing - Network file sharing between computers gives you more flexibity than using
floppy drives or Zip drives. Not only can you share photos, music files, and documents, you can
also use a home network to save copies of all of your important data on a different computer.
Backups are one of the most critical yet overlooked tasks in home networking.
Printer / peripheral sharing - Once a home network is in place, it's easy to then set up all of
the computers to share a single printer. No longer will you need to bounce from one system or
another just to print out an email message. Other computer peripherals can be shared similarly
such as network scanners, Web cams, and CD burners.
Internet connection sharing - Using a home network, multiple family
members can access the Internet simultaneously without having to pay an
ISP for multiple accounts. You will notice the Internet connection slows down
when several people share it, but broadband Internet can handle the extra
load with little trouble. Sharing dial-up Internet connections works, too.
Painfully slow sometimes, you will still appreciate having shared dial-up on
those occasions you really need it.
Multi-player games - Many popular home computer games support LAN
mode where friends and family can play together, if they have their
computers networked.
Internet telephone service - So-called Voice over IP (VoIP) services allow
you to make and receive phone calls through your home network across the
Internet, saving you money.
Home entertainment - Newer home entertainment products such as digital video
recorders (DVRs) and video game consoles now support either wired or wireless

Page | 5

Basics of Computer Networks


home networking. Having these products integrated into your network enables
online Internet gaming, video sharing and other advanced features.

4 PHYSICAL MEDIA
Twisted-pair cable
Twisted pair cabling is a type of wiring in which two conductors of a single circuit are
twisted together for the purposes of canceling out electromagnetic interference (EMI) from
external sources; for instance, electromagnetic radiation from unshielded twisted pair (UTP)
cables, and crosstalk between neighboring pairs. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell.

Fig 4.1: Twisted Pair Cable


Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable, or coax is a type of cable that has an inner conductor surrounded by a
tubular insulating layer, surrounded by a tubular conducting shield. Many coaxial cables also
have an insulating outer sheath or jacket. The term coaxial comes from the inner conductor and
the outer shield sharing a geometric axis. Coaxial cable was invented by English engineer and
mathematician Oliver Heaviside, who patented the design in 1880. Coaxial cable differs from
other shielded cable used for carrying lower-frequency signals, such as audio signals, in that the

Page | 6

Basics of Computer Networks


dimensions of the cable are controlled to give a precise, constant conductor spacing, which is
needed for it to function efficiently as a radio frequency transmission line.

Fig 4.2: Coaxial Cable


Fiber-optic cable
An optical fiber cable is a cable containing one or more optical fibers that are used to
carry light. The optical fiber elements are typically individually coated with plastic layers and
contained in a protective tube suitable for the environment where the cable will be deployed.
Different types of cable are used for different applications, for example long distance
telecommunication, or providing a high-speed data connection between different parts of a
building.

Fig 4.3: Fiber-optic cable

Page | 7

Basics of Computer Networks

5 WIRELESS MEDIA
Microwave system
Before the advent of fibre-optic transmission, most long-distance telephone calls were
carried via networks of microwave radio relay links run by carriers such as AT&T Long Lines.
Starting in the early 1950s, frequency division multiplex was used to send up to 5,400 telephone
channels on each microwave radio channel, with as many as ten radio channels combined into
one antenna for the hop to the next site, up to 70 km away.
Wireless LAN protocols, such as Bluetooth and the IEEE 802.11 specifications, also use
microwaves in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, although 802.11a uses ISM band and U-NII frequencies
in the 5 GHz range. Licensed long-range (up to about 25 km) Wireless Internet Access services
have been used for almost a decade in many countries in the 3.54.0 GHz range. The FCC
recently carved out spectrum for carriers that wish to offer services in this range in the U.S.
with emphasis on 3.65 GHz. Dozens of service providers across the country are securing or have
already received licenses from the FCC to operate in this band. The WIMAX service offerings
that can be carried on the 3.65 GHz band will give business customers another option for
connectivity.

Satellite system
Receive transmitted signals, amplify them, and then transmit the signals to the
appropriate locations.

Cellular technology

Page | 8

Basics of Computer Networks


Uses antennae resembling telephone towers to pick up radio signals within a specific
area (cell).

Infrared technology
Transmits data as infrared light waves from one device to another, providing
wireless links between PCs and peripherals

Fig 5.1: Infrared Transmission

Page | 9

Basics of Computer Networks

6 Categorization of Networks
Networks are usually classified into three properties.
6.1 .Topology
6.2. Protocol
6.3. Architecture

6.1. Topology
Network topology is the arrangement of the various elements of a computer network.
Essentially, it is the topological structure of a network and may be depicted physically or
logically. Physical topology is the placement of the various components of a network, including
device location and cable installation, while logical topology illustrates how data flows within a
network, regardless of its physical design. Distances between nodes, physical interconnections,
transmission rates, or signal types may differ between two networks, yet their topologies may be
identical.
An example is a local area network (LAN): Any given node in the LAN has one or more
physical links to other devices in the network; graphically mapping these links results in a
geometric shape that can be used to describe the physical topology of the network. Conversely,
mapping the data flow between the components determines the logical topology of the network.

6.2 Protocol
Rules of Network Protocol include guidelines that regulate the following characteristics of a
network: access method, allowed physical topologies, types of cabling, and speed of data
transfer.
P a g e | 10

Basics of Computer Networks


Types of Network Protocols

The most common network protocols are:


1. Ethernet
2. Local Talk
3. Token Ring
4. FDDI
5. ATM

The followings are some commonly used network symbols to draw different kinds of
network protocols.

Fig 6.1: Layout of Networks

Ethernet
The Ethernet protocol is by far the most widely used one. Ethernet uses an access
method called CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection). This is a system
where each computer listens to the cable before sending anything through the network. If the
network is clear, the computer will transmit. If some other nodes have already transmitted on the
cable, the computer will wait and try again when the line is clear. Sometimes, two computers
attempt to transmit at the same instant. A collision occurs when this happens. Each computer
then backs off and waits a random amount of time before attempting to retransmit. With this

P a g e | 11

Basics of Computer Networks


access method, it is normal to have collisions. However, the delay caused by collisions and
retransmitting is very small and does not normally effect the speed of transmission on the
network.
The Ethernet protocol allows for linear bus, star, or tree topologies. Data can be
transmitted over wireless access points, twisted pair, coaxial, or fiber optic cable at a speed of 10
Mbps up to 1000 Mbps.

Fast Ethernet
To allow for an increased speed of transmission, the Ethernet protocol has developed a
new standard that supports 100 Mbps. This is commonly called Fast Ethernet. Fast Ethernet
requires the application of different, more expensive network concentrators/hubs and network
interface cards. In addition, category 5 twisted pair or fiber optic cable is necessary. Fast
Ethernet is becoming common in schools that have been recently wired.
Local Talk
Local Talk is a network protocol that was developed by Apple Computer, Inc. for
Macintosh computers. The method used by Local Talk is called CSMA/CA (Carrier Sense
Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance). It is similar to CSMA/CD except that a computer
signals its intent to transmit before it actually does so. Local Talk adapters and special twisted
pair cable can be used to connect a series of computers through the serial port. The Macintosh
operating system allows the establishment of a peer-to-peer network without the need for
additional software. With the addition of the server version of AppleShare software, a
client/server network can be established.
The Local Talk protocol allows for linear bus, star, or tree topologies using twisted pair
cable. A primary disadvantage of Local Talk is low speed. Its speed of transmission is only 230
Kbps.
Token Ring

P a g e | 12

Basics of Computer Networks


The Token Ring protocol was developed by IBM in the mid-1980s. The access method
used involves token-passing. In Token Ring, the computers are connected so that the signal
travels around the network from one computer to another in a logical ring. A single electronic
token moves around the ring from one computer to the next. If a computer does not have
information to transmit, it simply passes the token on to the next workstation. If a computer
wishes to transmit and receives an empty token, it attaches data to the token. The token then
proceeds around the ring until it comes to the computer for which the data is meant. At this
point, the data is captured by the receiving computer. The Token Ring protocol requires a starwired ring using twisted pair or fiber optic cable. It can operate at transmission speeds of 4
Mbps or 16 Mbps. Due to the increasing popularity of Ethernet, the use of Token Ring in school
environments has decreased.

FDDI
Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) is a network protocol that is used primarily to
interconnect two or more local area networks, often over large distances. The access method
used by FDDI involves token-passing. FDDI uses a dual ring physical topology. Transmission
normally occurs on one of the rings; however, if a break occurs, the system keeps information
moving by automatically using portions of the second ring to create a new complete ring. A
major advantage of FDDI is high speed. It operates over fiber optic cable at 100 Mbps.
ATM
Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a network protocol that transmits data at a speed
of 155 Mbps and higher. ATM works by transmitting all data in small packets of a fixed size;
whereas, other protocols transfer variable length packets. ATM supports a variety of media such
as video, CD-quality audio, and imaging. ATM employs a star topology, which can work with
fiber optic as well as twisted pair cable.
ATM is most often used to interconnect two or more local area networks. It is also
frequently used by Internet Service Providers to utilize high-speed access to the Internet for their
clients. As ATM technology becomes more cost-effective, it will provide another solution for
constructing faster local area networks.
Gigabit Ethernet
P a g e | 13

Basics of Computer Networks


The most latest development in the Ethernet standard is a protocol that has a
transmission speed of 1 Gbps. Gigabit Ethernet is primarily used for backbones on a network at
this time. In the future, it will probably also be used for workstation and server connections. It
can be used with both fiber optic cabling and copper. The 1000BaseTX, the copper cable used
for Gigabit Ethernet, became the formal standard in 1999.

6.3 Architecture
Network architecture is the design of a communications network. It is a framework for
the specification of a network's physical components and their functional organization and
configuration, its operational principles and procedures, as well as data formats used in its
operation.
In telecommunication, the specification of a network architecture may also include a
detailed description of products and services delivered via a communications network, as well as
detailed rate and billing structures under which services are compensated.
The network architecture of the Internet is predominantly expressed by its use of the
Internet Protocol Suite, rather than a specific model for interconnecting networks or nodes in the
network, or the usage of specific types of hardware links.
The Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI model) is a product of the Open Systems
Interconnection effort at the International Standard Organization (ISO). It is a way of subdividing a communications system into smaller parts called layers. A layer is a collection of
similar functions that provide services to the layer above it and receives services from the layer
below it. On each layer, an instance provides services to the instances at the layer above and
requests service from the layer below.

P a g e | 14

Basics of Computer Networks

Fig 6.2: OSI Model

7 NETWORKING HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE


7.1 Ethernet hub
An Ethernet hub, active hub, network hub, repeater hub, multiport repeater or hub
is a device for connecting multiple Ethernet devices together and making them act as a single
network segment. It has multiple input/output (I/O) ports, in which a signal introduced at the
input of any port appears at the output of every port except the original incoming. A hub works
at the physical layer (layer 1) of the OSI model. Repeater hubs also participate in collision
detection, forwarding a jam signal to all ports if it detects a collision. In addition to standard
8P8C ("RJ45") ports, some hubs may also come with a BNC and/or Attachment Unit Interface
(AUI) connector to allow connection to legacy 10BASE2 or 10BASE5 network segments.

P a g e | 15

Basics of Computer Networks

Fig 7.1: Ethernet Hub

7.2 Repeaters
A common problem in the networking world is that of weakening electrical signals.
Electrical signals traveling through wires (such as copper wires used in most networks), weaken
due to the wire's electrical resistance. This effect limits the lengths of the cable that can be
used. A repeater will overcome this limit, when there is a need to connect two computers at a
larger distance.
A repeater is connected to two cable segments. Any electrical signal reaching the
repeater from one segment, will be amplified and retransmitted to the other segment.

Fig 7.2: Repeater

7.3 Routers

P a g e | 16

Basics of Computer Networks


A router is a networking device, commonly specialized hardware, that forwards data
packets between computer networks. This creates an overlay internetwork, as a router is
connected to two or more data lines from different networks. When a data packet comes in one
of the lines, the router reads the address information in the packet to determine its ultimate
destination. Then, using information in its routing table or routing policy, it directs the packet to
the next network on its journey. Routers perform the "traffic directing" functions on the Internet.
A data packet is typically forwarded from one router to another through the networks that
constitute the internetwork until it reaches its destination node.
The most familiar type of routers are home and small office routers that simply pass data,
such as web pages, email, IM, and videos between the home computers and the Internet. An
example of a router would be the owner's cable or DSL router, which connects to the Internet
through an ISP. More sophisticated routers, such as enterprise routers, connect large business or
ISP networks up to the powerful core routers that forward data at high speed along the optical
fiber lines of the Internet backbone. Though routers are typically dedicated hardware devices,
use of software-based routers has grown increasingly common.

Fig 7.3: Visualization of Router

7.4 Modems
Short for modulator-demodulator. A modem is a device or program that enables a
computer to transmit data over, for example, telephone or cable lines. Computer information is

P a g e | 17

Basics of Computer Networks


stored digitally, whereas information transmitted over telephone lines is transmitted in the form
of analog waves. A modem converts between these two forms.
Fortunately, there is one standard interface for connecting external modems to computers
called RS-232. Consequently, any external modem can be attached to any computer that has an
RS-232 port, which almost all personal computers have. There are also modems that come as an
expansion board that you can insert into a vacant expansion slot. These are sometimes called
onboard or internal modems.

Fig 7.4: Visualization of Modem


While the modem interfaces are standardized, a number of different protocols for
formatting data to be transmitted over telephone lines exist. Some, like CCITT V.34, are official
standards, while others have been developed by private companies. Most modems have built-in
support for the more common protocols -- at slow data transmission speeds at least, most
modems can communicate with each other. At high transmission speeds, however, the protocols
are less standardized.
7.5 Firewall
Having a good understanding of the capabilities offered by the different types of
firewalls will help you in placing the appropriate type of firewall to best meet your security
needs.
Understanding Packet-Filtering Firewalls:
Packet-filtering firewalls validate packets based on protocol, source and/or destination IP
addresses, source and/or destination port numbers, time range, Differentiate Services Code Point
(DSCP), type of service (ToS), and various other parameters within the IP header. Packet

P a g e | 18

Basics of Computer Networks


filtering is generally accomplished using Access Control Lists (ACL) on routers or switches and
are normally very fast, especially when performed in an Application Specific Integrated Circuit
(ASIC). As traffic enters or exits an interface, ACLs are used to match selected criteria and
either permit or deny individual packets.

Fig 7.5: Visualization of Firewall

Advantages
The primary advantage of packet-filtering firewalls is that they are located in just about every
device on the network. Routers, switches, wireless access points, Virtual Private Network (VPN)
concentrators, and so on may all have the capability of being a packet-filtering firewall.
Routers from the very smallest home office to the largest service-provider devices inherently
have the capability to control the flow of packets through the use of ACLs.
Switches may use Routed Access-Control Lists (RACLs), which provide the capability to
control traffic flow on a "routed" (Layer 3) interface; Port Access Control Lists (PACL), which
are assigned to a "switched" (Layer 2) interface; and VLAN Access Control Lists (VACLs),
which have the capability to control "switched" and/or "routed" packets on a VLAN.
Other networking devices may also have the power to enforce traffic flow through the use of
ACLs. Consult the appropriate device documentation for details.

P a g e | 19

Basics of Computer Networks


Packet-filtering firewalls are most likely a part of your existing network. These devices may not
be the most feature rich, but when you need to quickly implement a security policy to mitigate
an attack, protect against infected devices, and so on, this may be the quickest solution to
deploy.
Caveats
The challenge with packet-filtering firewalls is that ACLs are static, and packet filtering has no
visibility into the data portion of the IP packet.

Because packet-filtering firewalls match only individual packets, this enables an individual with
malicious intent, also known as a "hacker," "cracker," or "script kiddie," to easily circumvent
your security (at least this device) by crafting packets, misrepresenting traffic using well-known
port numbers, or tunneling traffic unsuspectingly within traffic allowed by the ACL rules.
Developers of peer-to-peer sharing applications quickly learned that using TCP port 80 (www)
would allow them unobstructed access through the firewall.

8 COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS
File transfer protocol (FTP)
The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a standard network protocol used to transfer
computer files from one host to another host over a TCP-based network, such as the Internet.
FTP is built on a client-server architecture and uses separate control and data connections
between the client and the server.FTP users may authenticate themselves using a clear-text signin protocol, normally in the form of a username and password, but can connect anonymously if
the server is configured to allow it. For secure transmission that protects the username and
password, and encrypts the content, FTP is often secured with SSL/TLS (FTPS). SSH File
Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is sometimes also used instead, but is technologically different.

Post office protocol (POP):

P a g e | 20

Basics of Computer Networks


In computing, the Post Office Protocol (POP) is an application-layer Internet standard
protocol used by local e-mail clients to retrieve e-mail from a remote server over a TCP/IP
connection. POP has been developed through several versions, with version 3 (POP3) being the
current standard.
Virtually all modern e-mail clients and servers support POP3, and it along with IMAP
(Internet Message Access Protocol) are the two most prevalent Internet standard protocols for email retrieval, with many webmail service providers such as Gmail, Outlook.com and Yahoo!
Mail also providing support for either IMAP or POP3 to allow mail to be downloaded.

802.11 protocol:
IEEE 802.11 is a set of media access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY)
specifications for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication
in the 2.4, 3.6, 5 and 60 GHz frequency bands. They are created and maintained by the IEEE
LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802). The base version of the standard was released in
1997 and has had subsequent amendments. The standard and amendments provide the basis for
wireless network products using the Wi-Fi brand. While each amendment is officially revoked
when it is incorporated in the latest version of the standard, the corporate world tends to market
to the revisions because they concisely denote capabilities of their products.

References
-en.wikipedia.org
-www.webopedia.com
-www.networkworld.com

P a g e | 21

Basics of Computer Networks

P a g e | 22