The Basics of Computer Networking Explained

Alexandra Kenney | Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Basics of Computer Networking Explained

Computer networking is what makes the internet, email, online commerce, video sharing, live streaming, and social media possible.

The basics of networking come down to three critical components: switches, routers, and wireless access points. With these networking basics, devices connect and communicate with one another. Each network component performs distinct functions.

We dive into the key aspects that make up a network, including standard computer networks, aspects that compose the basics of a network, different ways to keep a network secure, and other foundational knowledge.

What is Computer Networking?

A computer network is two or more computers connected to exchange, transmit, or share files and data. A network can be connected to a hardline or Wi-Fi, which is a wireless connection.

Computer networking operates through both hardware — such as switches, routers, cables, and access points — and software, such as business applications and operating systems.

Below is a list of various types of networks:

Local Area Network

Most commonly called LAN, this network connects computers that are close to each other. Computers in an office building, hospital, and school often utilize LANs to build and manage their networks privately.

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)

A WLAN is similar to a LAN, but connection access is made wirelessly (Wi-Fi).

Wide Area Network (WAN)

WANs work in a much wider area than LANs, such as across states, countries, and even continents. The internet is the most well-known and largest WAN, connecting billions of devices globally. WAN management typically utilizes collective or distributed network systems.

Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

MANs are usually in between LANs and WANs in terms of size. MANs are owned and managed by cities or government entities.

Personal Area Network (PAN)

PANs are used by one person with multiple devices. For example, an iPhone and Mac often share and sync their content and data so that users can access everything on both devices.

Storage Area Network (SAN)

A SAN is a network that acts similar to a storage drive attached to a computer. The shared network or cloud provides access to block-level storage. Block level storage, or block storage, is storage used for structured data. Structured data is traditional type of data that is contained in some structured format, like in a spreadsheet, which has columns and rows of types of data. For example, there could be a datasheet with predefined fields such as a column for the date, product, and price. Unstructured data would be data you couldn’t put into a spreadsheet, such as an email, photograph or the content of a social media message.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN provides a secure, end-to-end connection between two networks for users who need advanced protection and privacy. A VPN utilizes an encrypted channel to keep a user’s identity, transferred data, and credentials inaccessible to a potential breach. VPNs are growing and the market is expected to reach over $75 billion by 2027, according to Statista.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connects through the use of devices, such as computers, switches, routers, and access points to communicate with each other. By following specific protocols, each device uses a string of unique numbers that allow other devices to recognize it.

The Components of a Computer Network

There are three primary components that are central to every type of network: switches, routers, and access points. Each one, listed below, makes up a different part of the network to enable communication between devices:


Switches are the key component of most organizations’ networks. A switch works like a controller and connects devices, such as computers, phones, printers, and servers, for a school campus or a company’s building on one network.

The switches are what enable devices to communicate with each other within the network. They also allow networks to communicate with other networks, which provides a wider network of shared files and data. Essentially, switches help organizations save money and improve efficiency with resource allocation and information sharing.

There are two types of switches that organizations can choose from: on-premises or cloud-managed. “On-prem” gives users more control of network traffic by configuring and monitoring their LAN.

For organizations with an IT department, a cloud-managed switch simplifies network administration. It provides a simpler user interface, automatic updates delivered straight to the switch, and a multisite, full-stack network.


Routers are what connect the devices to the network and to the Internet. Routers save organizations money by enabling networked computers to use only one internet connection.

The router is similar to a dispatcher. It evaluates any data being sent across the network, decides the best route, and sends it accordingly. The router connects organizations to the digital world and shields the network and data from security threats. Routers can even designate which devices receive the highest priority for internet connection.

Many organizations choose routers with additional features that make them more secure, which is a big concern as the average cost of a data breach is $4.24 million, according to the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021. In many cases, organizations use a firewall, VPN, or IP network to help users meet their organization’s cybersecurity needs.      

Wireless Access Points

Wireless access points amplify your network and enable devices to connect to the network without relying on cables. WAPs extend the router’s bandwidth to support more devices and allow the devices to access the network from a further distance away from the router.

In addition to extending Wi-Fi, access points provide critical insight into the devices on the networks, proactively provide security, and deliver other practical services.

Remote Access Point

A remote access points (RAP) enable you to extend the corporate network to a remote site that must connect to the corporate network to check inventory or to a temporary booth at a forum or an exhibition, or to provide VPN connections for employees who work from home. When the remote employee installs the access point at their location, they can then connect to the corporate SSID. All communications between the access point and the remote endpoint occur over a secure IPSec VPN tunnel. 

The fundamentals of networking are straightforward and easy to understand. However, the most exciting part of networking is personalization. Users and organizations can create a network that best fits their needs, goals, and concerns. IT training courses provide the essential computer networking skills and knowledge to grow global Internet access. ExitCertified provides cybersecurity, cloud, networking training courses as well as a host of other courses.

Start your computer networking training journey today!

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