10 Networking Basics (Definitions and Why They're Important)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 20, 2022

Published May 14, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A rudimentary knowledge of networking basics is important for the majority of IT professionals, such as engineers, administrators, and technicians. There are many industry definitions, systems, procedures, and structures of computer networking, and your understanding of technical specifications may increase your chances of employment in the industry. Learning more about the fundamentals and how they're applicable may also help you decide if IT is a field that interests you. In this article, we examine what computer networking is and explain 10 networking basics to help you create a platform of technical knowledge.

What are networking basics?

Networking basics encompass a wide range of computer and systems knowledge, like computing devices, servers, laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones, and the software programs they operate on. Many industrial and consumer devices communicate with each other, such as home security systems, heating systems, freezers, and smart home systems. IT professionals use their understanding of networks to keep these devices functioning properly, exchanging information, and communicating with each other.

Nearly every industry uses a form of computer networking to conduct business, and career prospects are growing because of this. Here are a few professional categories that work with computer and systems networks:

  • Network technician

  • Network engineer

  • Network specialist

  • Network administrator

  • Network support analyst

  • Systems engineer

  • Systems administrator

  • Computer network architect

  • Computer and information systems manager

Related:

  • How to Get Into IT (With Tips to Build Your IT Career)

  • How to Become a Network Administrator (With Steps)

10 basic networking concepts

Here are 10 concepts to familiarize yourself with if you're interested in operating within the computer networking field:

Switch

A switch is a component of a computer network that ties various systems together. It acts as a controller and helps connect all the devices in a network. Switches facilitate communication between other switches and with other networks, providing a way for disparate networks to quickly exchange information. For example, a sporting goods company with several offices may have a centralized network that houses patent, research, and development files.

There are two types of switches to know about when creating your network:

  • On-site switch: An on-site switch is on the site and provides greater control of network traffic, systems, and oversight.

  • Cloud-managed switch: A cloud-based switch uses less space and can simplify network management. Cloud-managed switch systems often provide automatic updates and backups and usually have simpler user interfaces and the capability to manage full-stack development across several locations.

Router

A router is a device that connects networks and the devices operating on those networks to the internet, providing them with a single shared internet connection. Routers channel and analyze data and determine the most efficient way to send and receive it. Other than their networking function, routers have other features, including wireless communication capabilities, secure firewalls, and an internet protocol system or VPN.

Home routers and enterprise routers have a few important differences. Connecting home devices to a router often demands less power and has lighter specifications than setting up systems for a business or organization that may require many interconnected routers. For example, routers found in businesses may have troubleshooting features ranging from simple to complex, higher bandwidth, enterprise management features, and stronger reliability options than routers for home use.

Related: Top 10 Security Certifications for IT Professionals

Wireless access point

A wireless access point (WAP) connects your device to the network, router, and internet without the need for cables or wires. WAPs can save time and money, allowing you to conveniently connect new equipment or facilitate a mobile workforce. They also extend the network from the router, increasing bandwidth to allow more devices even if they're not within proximity. For example, a company office across many floors of a skyscraper may have multiple WAPs that facilitate connection without needing many or more powerful routers.

Access points can provide useful data to network technicians, such as how many devices connect at any given point, what security measures you might need, and the bandwidth of the signal.

Bridge

A network bridge is a device that connects two different networks and allows them to operate as if they were one. You can set the parameters on a bridge to enact several features and security measures, such as safeguarding information, encrypting messages, and increasing computing power. For example, if you have information that you don't want on one network, you can use a device on the other network to withhold it and prevent it from travelling across the bridge.

Bridges are also helpful in business situations where multiple employees or systems use the servers and data, such as the payroll records of an international company. Organizations also use them to prevent people who lack the correct clearance level from accessing sensitive or confidential information.

Related: 17 Skills You Need to Work in IT

Internet protocol address

An internet protocol (IP) address marks the beginning and ending points of computers and networks that transfer data. IP addresses are blocks of four numbers between one and 254, separated by periods. An IP address may look like this, 137.119.44.1.

Every device with a connection to a network has an IP address. It works in a similar way to a street address. Sections of the address specify in what region of the world the computer or device is located, while other parts narrow its location to a certain province, city, or neighbourhood. This is then followed by a street and number. An IP address can be public or private:

  • A public IP address is available to anyone on the internet. You can tell exactly where it's located and send information to it.

  • A private IP address isn't available to all internet users. The obscured location prevents unknown users from sending information, only allowing access to users it recognizes.

Dynamic host configuration protocol

A dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) is the tool that governs and maintains permanent IP addresses for all devices, such as computers, printers, and smartphones, within a client and server system. The automatic process establishes communication channels for computers and eliminates the necessity of matching and connecting IP addresses manually. There are four steps to DHCP:

  • server identification

  • IP lease offer

  • IP lease request

  • IP lease acknowledgement

Client and server

Client and server are definitions used to identify a network that is asking for data from a separate digital place that stores information. For example, your computer acts as a client when you view a website, and the server is the device that stores the information you're seeking. The server shares the data with your network when you request it, similar to when you type a query into a search engine.

Client and server partnerships are widespread, regardless of the type of device you operate to access data. It could be a smartphone, smartwatch, laptop, or any other device that uses the internet.

Firewall

A firewall is a network security feature that shields the information and systems of a business by managing traffic to the appropriate channel. Both software and hardware firewalls are options that protect a network from attacks and interference from unwanted parties. Their security settings often depend on the needs of a company, which can vary widely depending on the industry and the unique risks associated with it.

It's important to understand that while firewalls offer competent protection, they cannot protect a network or its users from every conceivable threat. For example, scams and viruses still occur, even when firewalls are active. Firewalls are one of many elements in a successful cybersecurity operating system.

Ethernet

Ethernet is a type of cable used to connect hard-wired computers, servers, and other devices to form a network and securely transport data. Four groups of wires inside the cable ensure a reliable connection that can accommodate large amounts of data. This infrastructure is similar to telephone cables and is useful for residential areas and businesses that don't have access to wireless connections.

Virtual private network

A virtual private network (VPN) is an encrypted connection that behaves like a private network while operating on a public network. Using a VPN helps ensure your data is safely and securely transmitted, without allowing unauthorized users to access your servers and hard drives. VPNs are often remote and wireless, allowing you to work from home or other locations, and rarely require an Ethernet connection.

Businesses sometimes use VPNs to protect their information. For example, a medical equipment company with employees across the country may have a VPN login that corroborates the engineering team's email addresses before allowing access to the network.

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