Understanding Network Terms and Networking
Most computer users know what a computer is, but not everyone knows what a computer network is, what it's for,
and how to leverage networks for their information needs. Princeton's WordNet web define a network as "an interconnected system of things or
people". Simply put, connecting two computers together via their network connections, either wired or wireless,
constitutes a network. But how do computers share information?
A Simple Network
The Client & Server Networking Paradigm
Computers communicate by a model often referred to as a client and server model. The client is the system that
is requesting information from the server system. An example of this would be a home computer user using a web
browser (the client) to get football scores from the NFL.com website (the server). More simply put, the client
system is the computer that initiates the conversations with another computer, and the server is the system that
returns the information requested to the client.
The Peer to Peer Networking Paradigm
Peer to peer networking has become a hot topic over the last few years and is most often in the news related to
a file sharing system such as Napster. In peer to peer networking, computers can function as both clients and
servers which is most often the case of networking with a home or small office system where computer resources are
more scarce than in larger business environments. In a small network, file sharing is often used to share files
such as music or pictures, but the files shared can be virtually anything. As well small networks may share other
resources such as printers or function as a media server for other systems within the home environment. Thus it is
important to understand in small networks that any system may be a client or a server. Even if there are systems
such as a Windows Home Media Server within the network, that system could also be considered a client if it is used
for web browsing, while it would be a server when providing multimedia content to other workstations within the
network. In fact, it is also possible for small networks to have dedicated servers such as an email server in their
hardware mix that can function as a full featured Internet facing host if the system and firewall are configured to
How Computers Talk to One Another
An important aspect to understand is that simply plugging two computers into a network alone is not enough get
things working, there is an additional component known as networking protocols to consider. Fortunately, the smart
guys who do these things have developed TCP/IP for us. While there are many networking protocols available, TCP/IP
is the de facto king of protocols and the communication protocol of the Internet. We have a detailed discussion about TCP/IP that will provide you with a sufficient understanding to manage
your own network, but suffice it to say for this discussion, TCP/IP is to a computer what a language is for people.
For example, someone who speaks only English would have a hard time communicating with someone who only speaks
Chinese. Thus to speak with one another they must both be properly configured with TCP/IP.
Connecting two or more computers together via wired or wireless networking constitutes a network. To
communicate, computers need to be configured with a network protocol such as TCP/IP, and a networked computer can
be a client, a server, or a peer within a network environment.