Updated: 07/06/2021 by Computer Hope
Computer network

A network is a collection of computers, servers, mainframes, network devices, peripherals, or other devices connected to allow data sharing. An example of a network is the Internet, which connects millions of people all over the world. To the right is an example image of a home network with multiple computers and other network devices all connected.

Examples of network devices

Network topologies and types of networks

The term network topology describes the relationship of connected devices in terms of a geometric graph. Devices are represented as vertices, and their connections are represented as edges on the graph. It describes how many connections each device has, in what order, and what sort of hierarchy.

Typical network configurations include bus topology, mesh topology, ring topology, star topology, tree topology, and hybrid topology.

Examples of network topologies

Most home networks are configured in a tree topology that connects to the Internet. Corporate networks often use tree topologies, but they also often incorporate star topologies and an Intranet.

What is the difference between public and private networks?

Often offered by nearby businesses and other publicly accessible areas, public networks are a convenient way to connect to the Internet.

  • Some public Wi-Fi networks require a password before a connection is made. If the network displays a lock icon in your list of available Wi-Fi networks, it requires a password.
  • Some networks do not require a password to connect, but require you to log in using your web browser before accessing the Internet.
  • Other public networks do not require a password at all. Any compatible device may connect to these Wi-Fi networks without authentication.

All public networks are less secure than your home network. Even if the websites you visit use encryption, the URLs you visit can be eavesdropped. For this reason, you should not transmit private or sensitive information on a public Wi-Fi network if you can do it elsewhere. If a public network does not require a password, we strongly recommend you do not connect any of your devices to it.

Private networks have security measures in place to prevent unwanted or unauthorized connections. Private networks are often used for home, business, school Wi-Fi networks, or mobile hotspots for security and to preserve bandwidth.

Advantages of a network

There are more advantages to a network than disadvantages. In fact, many companies today wouldn't exist without accessing some form of network. Below are the advantages of a network.

  • Share data and information - One of the biggest advantages of a network is sharing data and information between each of the devices on it. In addition, networks allow access to databases and help with collaboration on more complex work.
  • Communication - A network gives all users the ability to quickly communicate with each other using chat, instant messaging, e-mail, and videoconferencing.
  • Share hardware - Hardware devices connected to a network can be shared with all users. Below are a few examples of network hardware that can be shared.
    • NAS (network-attached storage) can store and access vast amounts of information.
    • A network printer allows all network users to print to one printer.
    • More powerful computers, supercomputers, and render farms can perform complex tasks that would take a normal, single computer longer to complete.
  • Share software - With the proper software license, software can also be shared.
  • Transferring money - Being connected to a secure network allows a person or business to digitally transfer money between banks and users. For example, a network could allow a company to not only manage employees' payroll, but also transfer their pay to the employee's bank account.

Disadvantages of a network

Although there are many advantages to a network (mentioned above), there are some disadvantages. Below are the disadvantages of a network.

  • Virus and malware - Networks make sharing information between network users easy. Unfortunately, this also means that viruses and malware have an easier time spreading between computers on a network.
  • Vulnerabilities - When a network is created, it introduces new methods of accessing the computers remotely, especially if they're connected to the Internet. With these potential new methods of accessing the computer, it can introduce new vulnerabilities to computers, users, and data on a network.
  • Complexity - Networks are complex, and setting up and managing a network for a business or corporation requires someone with a lot of experience or certification.

What was the first computer network?

One of the first computer networks to use packet switching, ARPANET, was developed in the mid-1960s and is the direct predecessor of the modern Internet. The first ARPANET message was sent on October 29, 1969.

Internet, LAN, Network terms