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Guide to Local Area Networks

Written by Jacob C. Herman

What is a LAN?

A Local Area Network (LAN) is a network of computers that covers only a small area, like a home, office, or building. Larger networks fall into the categories of Metropolitan Area Networks or Large Area Networks. Any user who has more than one computer in a home or office can benefit from implementing a LAN.


History of LANs.

LAN technology is more than 30 years old. In the early 1970s, researchers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) invented Ethernet, the technology behind LANs. An interactive timeline of LAN and ethernet history can be found here.


How a LAN works

One benefit of a LAN is that all computers in a LAN can share the same internet connection. This requires a special piece of hardware called a router. A router connects networks together; in this case, a LAN and the Internet. Routers for home use can usually support either four or eight computers. If there are more computers than the router can support, a hub or switch can be used. These devices extend the capacity of a LAN by allowing more computers to connect to a single router.


Routers perform many functions like translating IP addresses, port forwarding, and keeping track of usage statistics. A user should have some general knowledge of these topics to get the full benefits of using a router. Wireless routers perform these same functions, but present some additional security concerns. Microsoft has an excellent guide to setting up a home wireless network.


General Resources.

For information on the steps needed to set up a home LAN, see:

LANs also present several security concerns. Since all computers share a common Internet connection, a virus or worm that infects one computer has the potential to infect all computers on the same LAN. Because of this, it is important that each computer have a firewall and anti-virus protection installed.


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