A network is how one can link two or more computers together to share resources, files, or even an internet connection. Most homes and workplaces have networks set up to connect their computers somehow, but four key types of networks are available to users. 

What Is the Definition of a Network?

A network can have a pretty broad definition. At its simplest, it always involves two or more computers being linked either physically with cables or via a Wi-Fi connection. By being linked, these computers can share their resources, files, or internet connection without manually connecting on each occasion. 

Where networks can get much more complex is when it comes to size. A family home might, for instance, have a network consisting of two home computers and a Wi-Fi connection (which the family uses for various additional devices such as a smart TV, streaming box, smartphones, etc.). However, an office building may have an extensive network with thousands of computers connected to it physically with Ethernet cables. Some networks can even expand to cover large geographic areas. 

There are also four main types of networks, and it's essential to know the difference between them.

What Are the Four Types of Network? 

The most common types of networks include Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN). The other two main types of network are Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) and Wireless LAN (WLAN), with Wireless WAN (WWAN) also an offshoot of a similar principle. Here's a brief breakdown of each of the four main types of network.

  • Local Area Network. Typically the most common type of network you’ll encounter, a Local Area Network, involves connecting computers in a relatively small area. That area can be your home, an office, or school, amongst other locations. The devices can connect either via an Ethernet cable or through Wi-Fi. 
  • Wide Area Network. This type of network spans a large geographic area such as a city, state, or country. The internet itself is considered the largest Wide Area Network globally, with Wide Area Networks making it possible for smaller Local Area Networks to connect to it. Businesses may also have a Wide Area Network to link their many offices together.
  • Metropolitan Area Network. A Metropolitan Area Network is bigger than a LAN but smaller than a WAN. Large corporations or government bodies use it to link together different resources across a business. 
  • Wireless LAN. A wireless LAN works much like a Local Area Network, but it does so through wireless connections such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth rather than using Ethernet cables. 

Why Do I Need a Network?

Likely, the only network you'll come across knowingly daily is a home network, aka a Local Area Network (LAN). Not everyone needs a home network. If you only have one computer and no other devices you want to take online or share resources with, there's no need for a network. 

However, most people now have their own LAN setup at home with multiple devices connected to it. It’s important to know if wired or wireless is best for your home, or a combination of both, as well as understand how to set up a home network.

FAQ

  • What is a network security key?

    A network security key is a code or passphrase that allows you to connect to a private network or mobile device. Using this key keeps anyone from connecting to your network without your permission. Think of a security key like your housekey—you wouldn’t give a key to just anyone or leave your home unlocked all the time.

  • What is a mesh network?

    A mesh network uses many routers to distribute a network more uniformly over a larger area. Mesh networks provide redundancy in case one or more routers stop working.

  • What is a network adapter?

    A network adapter is a hardware that allows a computer, mobile phone, tablet, and other devices to interact through a local computer network. Network adapters can be wireless or wired, depending on the device.

  • What is a computer network?

    Computer networking is connecting two or more computing devices, such as desktop PCs or laptops, to share data between these devices. Computer networks come in two different forms: client-server and peer-to-peer.

  • What is a network switch?

    A network switch is a device that manages multiple network connections on a network. These connections can be any device that has a wired or wireless network card.

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