Getting Started With Networking

This is my study guide on getting started with networking.

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Getting Started With Networking

A network is two or more computers connected by a cable or through wireless to let them share information. This can be two gaming computers at home or your laptop connected to the wireless at your coffee shop. A cable could just connect those two computers or it could go back to a switch and a router somewhere in your home. There are many ways to make a network. 


The cables connect to a network interface card on the back of your laptop or desktop. It is often abbreviated as a ‘Nic’. This network interface card can be a separate card you plug in to your motherboard like the latest monster video card from Nvidia or it could be built into your motherboard and all you see is a port to plug the cable into. So, to make a network like this you need a Nic and an ethernet cable. 


Another way to have a network is joining a wireless network somewhere. Computers use wireless adapters built into their motherboards. You do not really see separate cards for these anymore. This is also very easy as some IT person has already done all the work to allow you to join the network. A typical network consists of a router, a switch, and an access point in the case of wireless networks. 


A Lan is usually a small network. By small, I mean it’s the size of your basement. It stands for local area network. Not super important yet, but Wan stands for wide area network. A Wan covers a large geographic area. If your computer is part of some network, it is called a node or endpoint on that network. Local means inside your computer. Remote means it is located somewhere else on the network. 


A network cable plugs into the back of your computer, whether a desktop or a laptop. There are several versions of cables and some even operate differently. However, they allow for the fastest exchange of information. 


A network switch is part of most networks. All but the smallest will have a switch. Even in my home, I have a switch for all of our devices. It makes things easier to keep track of and you get better performance and control of your network. I can log into my switch and look at usage and patterns. You can buy them for many different sizes but 8-12 port switches are very common. You can get them with 48 or some connections if you need to. Every computer in your location will connect to this switch through a cable.   


 Benefits of a Network

While it takes some effort to set up a network properly, there are several benefits. You can share files, resources, programs, and messages. 


A network allows you to share information easily. You can send a spreadsheet to another person around the world in a matter of seconds. This can be through email, a messaging system, or through a shared folder. You can even share your computer or part of it so others can get what they need without having to ask you every time. 


Sharing resources on your computer or something attached to it is very efficient. You can share your computer, a folder inside it, an internet connection, or even a printer attached to it. This makes it easy for someone far away to print something for you or work on something you do not have time for. 


Sharing a program is also very popular. You install the program on the shared drive. Then you just buy licenses for as many users as you need. It is cheaper to do this than to buy many copies of the same program. All of the users can now just access the program whenever they need it, even if they are on the other side of the world. 


Using a messaging platform and being able to communicate easily is another big benefit of a network. This is often in the form of email and instant messaging systems like Slack, Rocketchat, or Mattermost. These platforms also allow for video conferencing. This allows for virtual meetings and an example of something like this is Zoom. 



The powerful computer that has all these shared resources installed on it is called a server. A server is really just a specialized and more powerful computer than what you use to write your emails or calculate those sums in your spreadsheet. Every piece in it is a more durable and often faster component. This is what makes it possible to share resources so that others can use it over a network. 


Most networks have a small number of servers and a large number of clients or endpoints. You have enough servers to share the resources that you need. You also might have servers for backups and virtualization but that is not important in the beginning for your understanding of their roles.  Everything else on the network is accessing those resources. 


Servers work best when they have a server operating system installed on them. Windows and Linux both have server operating systems. These special operating systems operate more efficiently than regular versions of Windows or Linux. They do so because they handle network functions better. 


The Windows server operating system is pretty easy to get started and operate. It does a lot of the work and configurations for you, or at least helps you do it. As a result, Windows servers are very expensive. Conversely, Linux servers take a lot more work to get going and maintain. For some, this is good because they want control over their operating system. They are also completely free which can save thousands of dollars. All IT administrators should learn Linux so they can use the free operating systems instead of having to pay thousands in a year’s time.