When it comes to the definition of a network in the realm of computing, it’s rather simple: if you’ve got two or more devices connected to each other, either wirelessly or through cables, you’ve got a network. Of course, that’s an over-simplified answer, as any network has many other things going on with it; while you can directly connect two computers together so they can share information between them, the more computers connected together, the more complex a network grows. Throw in other issues, such as whether you want the computers in the network to have access to the Internet, and things get even more complicated.

 

However, just because it seems like it’s a complex procedure to set up a network doesn’t mean it has to be impossible to explain. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re trying to understand exactly what goes into a network of any size, whether it be a handful of laptops at home or dozens of devices at your place of work.

 

IP for You and Me

 

Before any discussion of networking setup can occur, a discussion of the mechanics of any network needs to happen. No, this won’t require an advanced engineering degree to understand. In fact it’s actually easy: the backbone of most networks today is through something called Internet Protocol, or IP for short. IP networks provide the framework to connect people together across the world over the Internet or across the room over Wi-Fi, and it’s one of the easiest ways to configure a network.


Part of this ease of use comes from how every device connected to an IP network has its own unique identifier called an IP address. Every website you go to on the Internet has an IP address, though you might not see the numbers because they’ve been associated with a domain name, like google.com. However, type in the IP address for Google ( a number like 173.194.115.16) in your web browser’s address bar and you’ll get the same exact page.

 

How to Network Devices

 

If you’re trying to put together your own home network of devices, there’s little in the way of equipment you’ll need besides a way to connect your computers together – either through physical cables or through built-in Wi-Fi – and a device to manage all that network traffic. If you have broadband Internet access, you probably already have one in the form of a router from your Internet provider. The device acts like a traffic light, managing the flow of data over your IP network; it also acts like a gateway, providing traffic flow into and out of your house via the Internet.


You don’t need to have your own personal network connected to the Internet. However, if you do have an IP network at home, it’s easy to configure it to connect to the outside world, as the Internet runs on the same protocol that your private network does.