Everyone is familiar with the internet these days, but how does it work? The internet is essentially a vast collection of networks linked together. So, to get an understanding of the inner workings, we need to know some of the basic principles of networking. Let's start with the hardware, specifically the cabling. The most widely used network architecture is known as ethernet, and there have been several popular types of cabling to implement it. In the early days, the cables that were used were about a half inch thick, making them clunky, not very flexible, and generally a pain to work with. The next type of cabling to gain popularity was coaxial, the same thing you use to connect your TV to the cable outlet in the wall. While it wasn't nearly as bulky as its predecessor, it still had its drawbacks. Coax (also known as 10Base2) was typically implemented in a daisy- chain configuration, meaning that if the cable was compromised in some way, every device on that particular section of cabling would lose connectivity. The cabling we use today, known as 10BaseT, is far easier to implement. It resembles the cable we use to connect our phones to the wall outlet, and therefore possesses many of the same desirable characteristics - it's thin, lightweight, flexible, and easy to work with. Although the connectors look much like that of ordinary phone lines, they are not the same. Telephones use connectors known as RJ-11, while network cables use connectors known as RJ-45. The most obvious physical difference between the two is that RJ-45 connectors are somewhat wider than RJ-11 connectors. Alright, so much for the mundane cabling. I'll return to some of the other hardware later on, but for now let's move on to the software side of things. Networks employ something called protocols, which are standards that dictate how data is transmitted and received. While there are many of these protocols, the most widely used is TCP/IP, which stands for Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol. As the name suggests, this is the protocol utilized by the internet, so your system will also have to utilize it if you want internet connectivity. Although the inner workings are rather complicated, recent versions of Windows do a pretty good job of setting this up for you, and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have also taken steps to make connecting a more or less automated process. Now, let's finish up the hardware. Besides the cabling, at a minimum you will need a computer and a modem for Internet connectivity. If you use dial-up networking, connecting a phone cable from the modem to the wall phone jack is the extent of the hardware connection process. If you use broadband networking (cable, DSL, etc.) your computer will need to have a NIC (Network Interface Card) installed, although most modern systems have this feature integrated into the motherboard. With both cable and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), the modem is connected to the NIC with a network cable. In the case of DSL, the modem is connected to the wall phone jack with a phone cable, and in the case of cable the modem is connected to the wall cable outlet with a coax cable. As for other hardware, there's really only one device that is typically implemented by home users and small businesses - the router. As the name suggests, it routes network traffic among the devices connected to it, and is typically used to allow two or more computers to share an Internet connection and to connect those computers to one another. These devices are available in two varieties - wired and wireless. The wired versions currently sell for $50-60 and the wireless versions only cost $5-10 more. This allows every connected computer access to the Internet and also allows them access to files and printers residing on the other systems. In addition, they also typically implement a firewall, which protects all connected devices from attacks via the internet.
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