You probably know that a Local Area Network, also called a LAN, isn’t the Internet yet is somehow related. But what is it exactly, and what can it do for you? Previously we have written about what a computer network is and now we will discuss what a local area network is.
Local Area Network Versus The Internet
If you think about the word Internet, you may realize that it’s trying to tell you something. The computer scientists who designed the Internet in the 1970s wanted it to interconnect networks, so they called it the InterNet.
Each of the networks the Internet interconnects is a local area network. Before the Internet became popular, they were just called networks. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the Internet began to become a household item, people began to describe the Internet as The Network (sort of how many people today describe Wikipedia as just plain Wiki).
At the dawn of the Internet, everyone one on the Internet had a local area network. But that’s because in the 1970s, computers cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, so the only people with computers were the government, universities, and large businesses. It was inconceivable in those days that people would connect directly to the Internet.
That changed in the late 1980s when dial-up Internet service started. People could now call a local server connected to the Internet and receive direct access to the Internet. Soon it seemed like everyone was on the Internet and the idea of a local area network had faded away.
The Local Area Network Makes A Comeback
There’s a flaw in the design of the Internet Protocol that powers the Internet. Remember that the Internet Protocol was designed in the 1970s when many computers still cost millions of dollars. The engineers working on the Internet Protocol only created four billion Internet addresses. That seemed like a lot in 1970, but today over a billion people use the Internet—and they don’t just use it at home: they use it work, at the library, at coffeehouses, at school, and at many other places too. Plus every Internet server needs its own address, and today there may be as many servers as there are people using the Internet.
For years, it’s been harder and harder to get a dedicated Internet address, and the last one available was allocated on 3 February 2011—just a few months ago.
The lack of Internet Protocol addresses forced people and businesses with multiple users in one house or office to start sharing Internet Protocol addresses—and the technique they used to do that was the local area network.
How A Local Area Network Works Today – Local Area Network Definition
A local area network is simply a group of computers (usually at the same location) which can all connect to each other without using the Internet. For example, if you have a laptop and a desktop computer at your house, you probably have a local area network even if you don’t realize it. If you are interested we have a previous article about the difference between LAN man and wan.
The typical home and small office local area network is powered by a router that connects three networks: a local area network for wireless devices, a local area network for wired (ethernet) devices, and the Internet (usually through a DSL, cable, or fiber optic modem).
Whenever your computer wants to talk to a computer on the Internet, it sends a request over the local area network to your router and your router forwards it to the Internet; then your router waits and forwards the response from the Internet back to your computer.
The router also helps you communicate with other computers on your local area network. When you want to print something on your desktop printer using your laptop, your laptop sends a message to your router (or a switch) addressed to your desktop—the router makes sure the message gets sent to your desktop and not to your iPhone.
How To Build A Local Area Network
But what if you don’t have a local area network and you want to connect two or more computers to the Internet? All you need today is a router and (if necessary) some CAT–5 or CAT–6 Ethernet cable for wired computers.
If you search the Internet for help building your first network, you may come across articles that suggest you build your network using a switch to get faster speeds and reduce costs. Switches do cost less, but they have few features, and since every modern router includes a built-in switch, you probably won’t see any speed increase. See how to set up a Gigabyte network for better speeds.
The Future Of The Local Area Network
A fix for the four-billion address limit on the Internet is already being implemented. It’s called Internet Protocol version Six (IPv6), and it may change how local area networks work.
With IPv6, there are a whopping 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 Internet addresses available. That’s over 48,000 thousands trillions trillion addresses for each person currently alive. In the future, when we’re all using IPv6 addresses, we won’t need to use a local area networks like we do now—every computer and every device you own will have its own Internet address.
But that day is still at least a few years off. We can’t completely switch to IPv6 until every single person on the Internet is ready for it. Until then, each one of us with more than one computer will need to keep our local area network.