by Kevin Spark
Most users connect seamlessly to the internet without realizing how the information gets to and from the internet. In reality, there are several different types of devices that allow you to surf the web. This article gives an overview of how it all connects together.
A Network Interface Card (NIC), also known as a network adapter, is the piece of hardware in your desktop or laptop computer that lets you send and receive information. Most network adapters come with wireless capability now, especially those in laptops. Every computer connected to a network must have a network adapter, and each adapter has a unique address built into the hardware, known as a MAC address.
Repeaters are devices that allow a signal to travel long distances. As cables travel these long distances, the signal tends to naturally degrade. A repeater receives the signal traveling down the cable and then retransmits it at a higher strength, allowing the signal to travel greater distance. Without repeaters, only those users within approximately 100 meters of the source of a signal would be able to send and receive data over the network.
A network hub is a fairly unsophisticated device that allows multiple connections to be linked together. A hub connects multiple ports together, allowing them to act as a single network segment. When data is received, the data is then broadcast to all of the hub’s ports, possibly resulting in “collision.” The availability of lower-priced switches and routers has rendered the use of hubs largely obsolete.
Network bridges are similar to hubs but are more complicated and efficient. Unlike a hub, which transmits traffic to all ports, bridges learn the identities of each connection and transmit data accordingly, rather than broadcasting traffic to all ports. Bridges come in three types: local bridges, remote bridges, and wireless bridges.
Switches are sometimes referred to as “intelligent bridges” because they perform largely the same function. However, switches have hardware that direct the data traffic, allowing them to “switch” from one port to another more quickly. In addition, switches usually have many more ports, with the intention that most network devices will be connected directly to the switch.
Routers are likely familiar to the average user. A router is a device that lets many users connect to the internet at once while it also creates an internal network, called a local access network (LAN). A router’s main function is to forward and route data. It operates on two planes: the “control plane” is for outgoing data, while the “forwarding plane” is for incoming data. Most commercial routers now have wireless capabilities.