April 17, 2015
LANs, Protocols and IP Addressing: A Guide To Network Communications
People seem to have this idea that IT is far too complicated for them to understand. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you asked the average Jo on the street what would they rather have a go at, setting up a firewall or a round of brain surgery, then they’d be inclined to opt for the former.
Now, I’m not saying for an instant that IT is by any means a doddle – it’s not. It is in fact a huge discipline that is evolving and expanding all the time. However, to grasp a few basics, which I think is where many people get put off, would actually help a lot of people with their computing confidence.
All disciplines come with their very own wonderfully named tools and jargon. For instance, if I were writing poetry then I would be dealing with trochaic hexameter, enjambement, caesuras and Spenserian stanzas. If it were the online game of SEO, then you’re dealing with backlinks, SERPs, 301 redirects and alt text.
And so it is in the world of network communication.
If you get past all the jargon, the confusing terms and the geeky eggheads in round spectacles (it’s not imperative that IT technicians dress like this, but a lot certainly seem to think it helps), then you can start to build up an understanding of how network communications work, and, I can almost guarantee you that as soon as you’ve got to grips with the basics, you’d be happier picking up the Ethernet cable than the scalpel any day of the week – if only us IT technicians got paid as much as those fancy folks in white with stethoscopes, ay?
So, below we’ve put together a quick reference guide to some of the most common terms that you will hear in reference to network communications, so you can move forward with a little more confidence the next time the tech guys start trying to confuse you with the fancy words and numbers.
A Quick Overview Of Network Communications
Most of the computers on your building will be linked together over the internet on a local area network, or LAN for short. This enables all of the devices on the LAN to send data to one another – be they messages, emails, photos, what have you. LANs can extend beyond a single building, however, but usually when we talk about LANs, we’re referring to a network that is contained within a 1km radius.
So far, so simple. But what happens when we want to send and receive data to and from our computers which reside in other LANs? Not all LANs are connected to the same technologies, right? Right – any amount of technology can be hooked up to any amount of LANs.
So, since we can’t control what technologies are connected to which LANs, what we have to control instead is the standard that is used for communicating. This requirement is what led to the development of IP addressing (don’t worry, we’ll clarify shortly), which is needed to communicate over the internet (which, incidentally, is simply a world wide system of interconnected networks).
Ok, so let’s now delve a little deeper – draw breath – here we go.
What Is IP Addressing?
Your very own internet protocol address (IP address) is a modern product of computer technology, which allows one computer device to communicate with another one over the internet.
They work much like postal addresses. Your IP address allows your device to be pinpointed amongst the billions and trillions of other devices that are out there which are also connected to the internet. So, just like the mailman wouldn’t be able to deliver your letters to you without your postal address, neither would you be able to receive emails on your computer without an IP address. It really is as simple as that.
What About Routers – What Are Those And How Do They Work?
Well, as discussed in the introduction, lots of computers mean lots of LANs. In order for data packages to be sent from one LAN to another, a piece of networking equipment is needed, and this piece of equipment is called a network router.
Network routers route packages of data from one network to another based on IP addresses. Only network packages that are to be sent to other networks are forwarded, importantly. It connects a local network to the larger internet.
Firewalls are important to understand too when it comes to network communications. What these do is analyse all of the data packages that attempt to enter or leave a network. If these data packages meet the security criteria that is specified, then they are allowed through. If not, then they are blocked.
So those are the very basic terms that everyone needs to know when it comes to understanding network communications. You may need to chew over it all for a moment, but that’s ok, even us eggheads had to start somewhere.