Networks can be categorized in several different ways. One approach defines the type of network according to the geographic area it spans. Local area networks (LANs), for example, typically reach across a single home, whereas wide area networks (WANs), reach across cities, states, or even across the world. The Internet is the world's largest public WAN.
Computer networks also differ in their design. The two types of high-level network design are called client-server and peer-to-peer. Client-server networks feature centralized server computers that store email, Web pages, files and or applications. On a peer-to-peer network, conversely, all computers tend to support the same functions. Client-server networks are much more common in business and peer-to-peer networks much more common in homes. A network topology represents its layout or structure from the point of view of data flow. In so-called bus networks, for example, all of the computers share and communicate across one common conduit, whereas in a star network, all data flows through one centralized device. Common types of network topologies include bus, star, ring and mesh.
In networking, the communication language used by computer devices is called the protocol. Yet another way to classify computer networks is by the set of protocols they support. Networks often implement multiple protocols to support specific applications. Popular protocols include TCP/IP, the most common protocol found on the Internet and in home networks.
Wired vs Wireless Networking
Many of the same network protocols, like TCP/IP, work in both wired and wireless networks. Networks with Ethernet cables predominated in businesses, schools, and homes for several decades. Recently, however, wireless networking alternatives have emerged as the premier technology for building new computer networks.