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Jan's Computer Basics:

Computer to Computer: Networks

A network is a set of computers which are linked together on a permanent basis. This can mean two computers cabled together on the same desk, or thousands of computers across the world. The connections can be cables or wireless.

Network: Server with connected computers and a printer

Network made up of a server, connected desktop computers,
a shared network printer, a laptop connected wirelessly

  • Enables users to share hardware like scanners and printers. This reduces costs by reducing the number of hardware items bought.
  • Can share access to the Internet.
  • Allows users access to data stored on others' computers. This keeps everyone up-to-date on the latest data, since it's all in the same file, rather than having to make copies of the files, which are immediately out-of-date.
  • Can even let users run programs that are not installed on their own computers but are installed elsewhere in the network. This reduces the effort for networks administrators to keep programs configured correctly and saves a lot of storage space.
  • Accessing anything across a network is slower than accessing your own computer.
  • More complexity adds new problems to handle.
  • Less customization is possible for shared programs and folders. Everyone will have to follow the same conventions for storing and naming files so others can find the right files.
  • Sharing is hard for some folks!


A LAN is a Local Area Network. This would include networks where the computers are relatively close together. So LANs would be within the same office, a single building, or several buildings close together.
The graphic at the right shows two buildings with 4 departments connected as a LAN that uses 3 servers.

A small LAN is often set up just to provide Internet access to all the computers in a small office or a home. Sharing a printer or scanner is also a good reason for a small LAN.


LAN: Local Area Network in two buildings


A WAN is a Wide Area Network, which would be all networks too large to be LANs. There doesn't seem to be a clear line between the two designations. A WAN would be most useful for large companies with offices or factories in widely separated areas, like Microsoft, IBM, Ford, AT&T, etc.

The same advantages apply as for a LAN except that a WAN would not share an Internet connection. Often a WAN uses the Internet to connect with instead of dedicated cables between far distant computers. But you can still set up remote access for computers and hardware over a WAN.

WAN - Wide Area Network