What is a computer network?
A computer network is defined as a system that connects two or more computing devices for transmitting and sharing information.
A computer network is like a highway.
There is traffic when driving on a highway, as many individuals are navigating the roads to get from one place to another.
In some cases you drive on the highway to get from one city to another. Maybe you need to drop off a package. Maybe you need to tell your friend something in person.
The network of highways allows you to get from one location to another in an organized manner.
In other words...
A computer network refers to the interconnected nature of computing devices communicating with one another.
Why is a computer network important?
It's one thing to know what a term means, but that is worthless if you don't know why you should know what a computer network is in the first place. Let's break down the importance of this tech term based on two high level categories. We'll walk through an explanation as well as provide a score, 1-10, that shows you how much you should care about computer networks.
The first will be if you do not have a product yet. This means that you don't have a physical product. Maybe you're in the ideation phase, or maybe you're almost ready to start development. Whichever it is, we'll get into why a computer network is important and why you should or shouldn't care about it if you do not have a product.
Not knowing what a computer network is will not inhibit your ability to start a tech company. You should know what a computer network is, that by even reading this right now that means you have accessed a computer network, but outside of the basic definition this won't impact your roadmap.
Live Product: 2/10
The second category is if you do have a live product. Maybe you just launched your business or maybe it's been live for years and you're continuing to improve its quality. Regardless of the scenario, if your product is live, computer networks carry a different weight.
It is important to know if you want your product/website/app to be online and available to others from other devices, meaning it is on a computer network, but you don't need to know the technical terms behind it. You will be a-okay so long as you know you want your product accessible.
Examples of a computer network
So you know what a computer network is, by definition. You know if you should care about it or not depending on your situation as a business/company/product. To dig in deeper, we will walk through some examples so we can make sure you really have a solid grasp on computer networks.
Five types of computer networks:
There are five basic computer networks that we will walk through.
- Local Area Network (LAN)
As its name, a LAN is a network of devices connected over a short distance. This could be a networking within one school, one business, or one household. All devices within that organization are all connected within the same computer network.
- Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)
While this is a sub-category of a Local Area Network, it still deserves its own category as rather than being connected by hardware or cables, the network is paired together using the air as its medium. They utilize a common tool called WiFi to transmit data within the network.
- Wide Area Network (WAN)
Whereas a LAN connects devices, a WAN will connect local networks to create a wider network. A perfect example of a WAN is the internet itself (the largest WAN to exist). The internet consists of connecting all local area networks together to create one massive network.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN is used for privacy as well as remote access of a network. This is important in the new remote world, as if you are a remote worker who has to work within a secure computer network, you can do so by using a VPN, which allows you to remotely access this private network rather than physically plugging into it in the office. You can see a real example of a VPN by checking out this review of Surfshark VPN.
- Virtual Local Network (VLN)
The purpose of a VLN is to take a local network of devices (LAN) within a larger network and to connect them, separating them from the entire network and creating its own virtual local network. This can be used to categorize departments or different groups of people.
- A computer network refers to the interconnected nature of computing devices communicating with one another.
- This isn't a term you need to worry too much about whether you do or don't have a product. Unless there is a specific use-case as to why a network impacts your business model, you should be able to operate normally without knowing the extent of this term.
- There are five main categories of networks: LAN, WLAN, WAN, VPN, and VLN.