Nowadays we have many devices around the house that can connect to the Internet. From the computer, laptop, to the printer, smartphone or the TV, our homes are getting smarter by each passing day. Networking has come a long way in the last two decades. From tiny networks scattered around the world to a massive World Wide Web, connecting millions of people and even more devices.
But with this higher level of interconnection, comes more need to understand basic concepts of computer networking. It’s easy to get confused with all those devices that seem to do the same thing. In this tutorial I will try to explain how a basic network works, what are the different components of a network and how they can be connected together.
What are Switches?
A switch is an electrical equipment that can connect 2 or more computers in a network. These networks are called Local Area Networks (LAN). The switch operates at the level 2 of the OSI model, the Data Link Level, and what that means is that switches have the task of pushing the data to the nearest switch or to the client it was meant for. A switch does not have implemented software, it reads the MAC address of your computer and forwards your IP, so basically, it works right out of the box.
No need for complex configurations is a great advantage that switches have, but they cannot connect a computer to the Internet, only connect computers in a LAN. Nevertheless, switches are very useful in a network, because they can forward an Internet connection. Let’s suppose you have 3 computers in a room, but only one Internet cable. A simple way to forward the Internet connection is to connect all the three computers to a switch and plug in the Internet cable alongside the other ports (coming from the computer).
Then, if you have an Internet account for each computer, they can all connect to the Internet at the same time and share the same cable. of course, there are more types of switches, some more complex than others, and they can accomplish more complex connections, but this is basically the role of the switch in a network.
What are Routers?
Routers are communications equipments that connect LAN networks together, resulting in WAN (Wide Area Network). A router operates on the level 3 of the OSI Model, the Network Layer and it can forward a packet by reading its IP address and then forwarding it to the recipient. Routers are more expensive than switches, but they are more sophisticated and work on the IP level, unlike the switch that operates on the MAC address level.
Also, a feature that only routers have is the possibility to compute the best possible route for a packet, due to its algorithms, and therefore are faster. Routers can be found one of two types: wired or wireless. Wireless routers are great when connecting devices that have WiFi connectivity and it eliminates the need for wires running all over your house. As opposed to switches, routers can connect multiple LANs and create a WAN, and can also connect computers to the Internet.
The difference between Switches and Routers is noticeable when you look under the hood. They might look similar on the outside, but the inner workings of each device are totally different. If you are interested in setting up a network and you want to figure out if you should use a switch or a router, remember this: if you have more than one computer with separate Internet accounts, you can use a switch to connect them both at the same time, each with its own account.
If, on the other hand, you have more than one device that can connect to the internet, you can use a router or a wireless router (depending on the devices), but they won’t work all at the same time on the same account. Just remember that a router is a switch with some extra features. Now you know the basics of creating a network.
Of course, this tutorial only scratches the surface of what networking is, and the devices featured here are much more complex than they look. But for a simple home network, this is all you need to know. Keep in mind, if you use a wireless router at home, use a strong password so you won’t have a problem with people piggybacking your WiFi connection. Here is a list of a few routers and switches to get you going on your network:
Top 8 Best Routers
Top 5 Best Switches
Unlike routers, which have different operating protocols, switches are much more simple. When buying a switch, look for one that can accommodate the number of PC’s you want to connect in the network and that it has a fairly good speed. 10/100/1000 Mbps switches are the best choice, the offer gigabit speeds and they can be found in 4+ ports. Here are a few examples of such switches, but to be fair, any switch will do.