Introducing networks

A network is created when more than one device is connected together. A network can be a small collection of computers connected within a building (eg a school, business or home) or it can be a wide collection of computers connected around the world.

Data packets

The main purpose of networking is to share data between computers. A file has to be broken up into small chunks of data known as data packets in order to be transmitted over a network. The data is then re-built once it reaches the destination computer. Networking hardware is required to connect computers and manage how data packets are communicated. Protocols are used to control how data is transmitted across networks.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using networks.

Icons showing the advantages and disadvantages of using networks

Advantages

  • Communication – it is easy (and often free) to communicate using email, text messages, voice calls and video calls.
  • Roaming – if information is stored on a network, it means users are not fixed to one place. They can use computers anywhere in the world to access their information.
  • Sharing information – it is easy to share files and information over a network. Music and video files, for instance, can be stored on one device and shared across many computers, so every computer does not need to fill the hard drive with files.
  • Sharing resources – it is easy to share resources such as printers. Twenty computers in a room could share one printer over a network.
  • Sharing software – it is possible to stream software using web applications. This avoids needing to download and store the whole software file.

Disadvantages

  • Dependence – users relying on a network might be stuck without access to it.
  • Hacking - criminal hackers attempt to break into networks in order to steal personal information and banking details. This wouldn't be possible on a stand-alone computer without physically getting into the room, but with a network it is easier to gain access.
  • Hardwarerouters, network cards and other network hardware is required to set up a network. At home, it is quite easy to set up a wireless network without much technical expertise. However, a complicated network in a school or an office would require professional expertise.
  • Viruses - networks make it easier to share viruses and other malware. They can quickly spread and damage files on many computers via a network.