Basics of Networking

In this day and age, networks are everywhere, especially in the form of the Internet. The internet, the ultimate network, has revolutionized not only the computer world, but the lives of millions. A network is simply a collection of computers or other hardware devices that are connected together, either physically or logically, using special hardware and software that allows the devices to exchange information and cooperate. Networking is the term that describes the processes involved in designing, implementing, upgrading, managing, and otherwise working with networks and network technologies.

            Most of the benefits of networking can be divided into two basic categories: connectivity and sharing. Networks allow computers, and hence their users, to connect each other. They also allow for the easy sharing of information and resources, and for the simple cooperation between the devices in other ways. Some of the specific benefits of networking include communication, data sharing, internet access, data security and management, application performance enhancement, and entertainment.

            Networking has a few drawbacks that you can weigh against its many positive aspects. Setting up a network has costs in hardware, software, maintenance, and administration. It is also necessary to manage a network to keep it running smoothly and to address possible misuse or abuse issues. Data security also becomes a much bigger concern when computers are connected together.

            There are many different kinds of networks and network technologies that are used to create them. The proliferation of networking methods has generally occurred for a very good reason: Different needs require different solutions. It is very important to understand some of the basic characteristics that make networks what they are. The best way to understand any complex system is to break it down into pieces and then analyze what those pieces do and how they interact. The most logical approach is to divide the overall set of functions into modular components, each of which is responsible for a particular function. At the same time, you also need to define interfaces between these components, which describe how they fit together. This enables you to simplify the complexity of networking by approaching it in digestible chunks.

            Networking technologies are most often compartmentalized in this manner by dividing their functions into layers, each of which contains hardware and software elements. Each layer is responsible for performing a particular type of task and interacts with the layers above and below it. Layers are conceptually arranged into a vertical stack. Lower layers are charged with more concrete tasks such as hardware signaling and low-level communication; they provide services to higher layers. The higher layers, in turn, use these services to implement more abstract functions such as implementing user applications.

            One other important benefit of layering is that makes it possible for technologies defined by different groups to interoperate. For this is to be possible, it is necessary for everyone to agree on how layers will be defined and used. The most common tool for this purpose is a networking model. The model describes what the different layers are in the network, what each is responsible for doing, and how they interact. A universally accepted model ensures that everyone is on same page when creating hardware and software. The most common general model in use today is the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model, which consists of seven stacked layers. These range from the physical layer (layer 1) at the bottom, which is responsible for low-level signaling, to the application layer (layer 7) at the top, where application software is implemented.

            Closely related to the concept of a model is the concept of an architecture. An architecture is essentially a set of rules that describes the function of some portion of the hardware and software that constitutes a stack of layers. Such a ruleset usually takes the form of a specification or standard that describes how equipment and programs using the technology must behave. A networking architecture is designed to implement the functions associated with a particular contiguous set of layers of the OSI Reference Model, either formally or informally.

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