Anyone using the Internet will frequently encounter networking concepts. Even though you would have used them so many times, it is useful to have the definitions and basic understanding of the concepts in one single page. Therefore, we bring you a glossary of the most important networking terms in very easy language for your ready reference.
3G, 4G, 5G
The advent of smartphones and high-speed networking has caused a spurt in mobile data networks. There have been quite a few major trends in download performances in the last two decades, each represented by a new generation (“G”) of mobile data speeds.
3G networks were the first to reach a maximum of 2 tp 3 mbps. 4G networks were launched around 2009 and were faster with typically 10 to 200 mbps speed, adapting to user demands for voice, video, and high-definition TV.
5G networks are the latest evolution in this race with theoretical speeds up to 10 gbps, more bandwidth size, and less latency. Its objective is to support future connected devices such as smart vehicles and the Internet of things.
Bandwidth is defined as maximum data transfer rate between any two points in a network and is measured in megabits per second (mbps) or gigabits per second (gbps). The concept of bandwidth is somewhat analogous to a busy highway, referring to the maximum number of vehicles which can fit the highway without causing a traffic jam.
Bitrate refers to he actual speed one receives between a client and a source. For example, your ISP might provide a bandwidth of 30 mbps but during a Zoom video call, you may have to contend with a bitrate of 10 to 15 mbps. Bitrate speeds are always lower than bandwidth because some of the speed is lost due to noise in the channel.
Broadband refers to the most commonly used Internet access protocol today which supports a “broad bandwidth” of data transmissions and many channels of communications (“passbands”). It is often understood as a cable connection but can also refer to optical fibers, DSL, satellite, or any other network that does not depend on a phone (unlike “dial-up” modems) to provide Internet.
Buffering is a networking concept which indicates that some cache memory is being allocated to hold data while it’s being transmitted over a lower-bandwidth network. The transit time of such a data stream encounters unexpected delays. The concept of buffering is typically encountered in online video streaming and in gaming environments.
Any networking system is segregated into two core applications: an end user client to make requests over internet protocol and a web or application server to fulfill the requests. When you access a website on a client (e.g. the browser), the request is handled by the website’s server and provide an output to be displayed on your screen.
Evidently, a client/server architecture rests on multiple clients depending on a common server. In contrast, there is a “peer-to-peer (P2P) architecture,” which allows the two clients to communicate with each other without the need for a server.
When browsing the Web, text files called cookies containing information on a particular website are stored on a user’s computer by a browser. This information can be used to personalize a user’s browsing experience. All cookies can be erased completely from a browser whenever you want.
DNS (Domain Name System)
Domain Name Systems (DNS) are like Internet phonebooks: they take your alphanumeric input such as the website name and converts it to a numeric IP addresses understood by the server you want your client computer to connect to. The process works in the background, and you won’t ever notice it. DNS is a fundamental cornerstone of Internet access.
The word email means “electronic mail,” one of the most popular services of the Internet which helps exchange messages from one computer to another. The message is transported using what is known as an email address which consists of a “username” and a “domain” separated by an at sign (@). Despite the advent of instant messaging, video-calling, and social media apps, email remains highly popular for exchanging messages.
Ethernet is a form of Internet connectivity through data link layers using coaxial cables such as a Category 5 Ethernet cables. The ethernet connectivity is commonly used in local area networks (LAN) but may also be used in wide area networks (WAN) such as a college campus or offices.
A gateway refers to a node in a computer network which serves as a “gate” to redirect traffic between two discrete networks – normally an upstream server and a downstream client. Routers, firewalls, and proxy servers are typical examples of gateways which control this server to client communication. Often you encounter this concept during a “502 Bad Gateway error,” which is an error code indicating an invalid response from the upstream server.
Internet is a term widely used to describe a global network of billions of computers and other electronic devices through which people can exchange information and communicate with other users. To connect to the Internet is called going “online.”
Internet of Things
Internet of things (IoT) is an extension of the Internet concept to everyday objects other than computing devices. From wearables to a smart appliance and a connected car, the Internet of things amplifies the applications of the Internet to a much larger scale of objects in our surroundings. The true realization of IoT requires growth in technologies such as machine-to-machine (M2M), 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive computing, and much more.
An IP address refers to a unique numerical string which identifies each device that is connected to the Internet. The unique number contains various blocks separated by periods, with each block varying from 0 to 255.
IP forwarding or IP routing is a process used to calculate the path a data packet can be sent from a source to a destination. It uses a routing protocol such as Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), or Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to achieve a successful transfer of data.
IPv4 and IPv6
IPv4 and IPv6 are the two popular IP address formats that are being used. An IPv4 address uses a 32-bit address which translates to 232 unique possible addresses (~4.3 billion addresses). At the moment, we are faced with the prospect of running out of these addresses very soon.
To solve this problem, IPv6 addresses are now becoming popular. They use a 128-bit hexadecimal address which translates to 2128 unique possible addresses (in unidecillions), which should never run out.
In networking parlance, jitters refer to small sporadic delays during the transfer of data packets. If the jitter is too high, it means your network is suffering from poor performance, and the delays in packets can make some forms of communication unreliable. For example, if you experience jitters during a Skype call, you can hear your own voice played back to you.
LAN (Local Area Network)
A local area network (LAN) is defined as a limited computer network that is located within a certain area within a neighborhood. Ethernet and Wi-Fi are the most common means to connect computers in this specific area. A LAN is compared and contrasted with a wide area network (WAN), which spreads across geographical regions, and even nations.
Latency is a measure of round-trip delays in a computer network and is typically expressed in milliseconds. If your network suffers from a huge latency, then it means some of your applications won’t run smoothly. Latency is lowest for 5G networks at around 1 ms (almost the blink of an eye), can be 60 ms for 4G, and can be very high for satellite communication (up to 800 ms).
Busy websites have a huge demand on their servers from multiple end clients. To efficiently manage the incoming traffic, they use server farms or distributed computing using a technique called “load balancing.” This is done using an algorithm such as “round robin,” “IP hash,” etc. The TCP/IP networking protocol is used to automatically redistribute the traffic across all computers.
NAT (Network Address Translation)
Network Address Translation (NAT) is a simple protocol which converts the IP address assigned to you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) into multiple private addresses for all the devices that connect to your network. It can also happen in a shared environment such as a college dorm or an office.
A packet is the smallest unit of data sent over a network: either LAN or WAN. It contains a header and a payload which is a data of variable length. Any packet requires a source and a destination address to make the delivery.
A ping by a computer is a basic request packet sent to a host (server, etc.) to measure the round-time needed to receive a response.
A networking port is a communication point used to identify a specific network service (printing, World Wide Web, email, etc.) in a TCP or UDP format. These are different from hardware ports which connect cables to hubs, switches, and ethernet ports. The ports are identified using what is known as an unsigned number which can vary from 0 to 65535. Some of the most popular port numbers include HTTP in World Wide Web which uses port 80, HTTPS which uses port 443, and Domain Name Service using port 53.
Port forwarding or port mapping is a mechanism to set aside one port number on a gateway for the exclusive use of communicating with a service in the private network. Applications, including running your own web or gaming server, can redirect all the traffic to a port. The following screen shows a port forwarding example for Windows 10 when running a game server.
A router is a networking device whose job is to manage the traffic between various computer networks, similar to traffic police. Most people are familiar with home and office routers which are limited in terms of data transmitted. There are larger routers in enterprise and academic institutions with support for a rapid increase in traffic.
TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol)
The TCP/IP protocol is the most common conceptual model used in Internet communication. It uses a four-layer architecture from the physical (ethernet, etc.) to Internet (IP address, etc.), Transport (UDP,: etc.) to applications such as HTTP, SMTP, etc. It is also known as the Internet protocol suite and has been a continuous standard that has been the backbone of the Internet from its very beginning.
VPN (Virtual Private Networks)
A virtual private network (VPN) helps you achieve private connection between your local device and an external server. It creates a private network out of a public Internet connection by hiding the IP address. With a VPN, all your browsing data is routed through a safe encrypted passage protecting you from potential surveillance of ISPs, government, and tracking agents.
A proxy server is similar to VPN in that it hides the IP address and protects your original IP. Unlike VPN, proxy server data is not encrypted.
Wide Area Network (WAN)
A wide area network is a telecommunication network over a wide geographical area, which is in sharp contrast to a local area network (LAN) limited to a campus, office or residential building.