Network Terms 101

For many folks, a person talking about the technical specifications of his or her computer might as well be speaking a foreign language. Between industry jargon and a seemingly endless list of acronyms, a conversation with an IT specialist may leave you feeling a bit dazed…or dizzy. The good news is that the average person doesn’t need to become an expert in computer terminology. However, there are a few common, fairly basic terms that might be handy to know if you’re a regular computer-user. Not only can these “vocabulary words” help you better describe your technology woes to a trained specialist, but they might just empower you to do some minor fixes on your own!

First things first: a network is any system of computers, devices, servers, peripherals, etc. that are capable of communicating with one another and sharing information. The Internet is an example of a huge computer network, while your PC, router, printer, and laptop make up a much smaller, “local” network. These days, two devices often don’t need to be physically linked together with a cable or cord in order to be part of the same network; wireless connections are more than capable of transferring data over long distances (across your house, across a building, or even across the world!).

“ISP” stands for “Internet Service Provider,” and as the name implies, this is a company that offers Internet access to its customers. ISPs commonly used by Americans include (but are certainly not limited to) Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Century Link. For home Internet users, it’s very important to know who your ISP is, because they’re the ones that you need to call first if something goes wrong with your Internet connection.

An ISP should not be confused with a web browser, which is an application that one uses to surf the Internet. Popular web browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari. While your choice in browser is important (and different browsers offer different features and options), without an ISP, your web browser can’t do much of anything.

Short for “Wireless Fidelity,” Wi-Fi is a type of technology that allows compatible devices to connect to the Internet (and each other) without needing to be physically plugged into a network. For obvious reasons, Wi-Fi is a much more convenient solution for mobile devices than having to fuss with cables and cords. Wi-Fi also makes it easier for multiple computers in the same household or office to have Internet access; folks can simply “log in” without needing to locate (or even fight over!) physical access ports. Nearly all newer computers and web-enabled devices have Wi-Fi capabilities already built-in, which means that you usually don’t have to “install” them or buy a separate adapter. Instead, you just need to follow the individual device’s instructions for connecting to the nearest Wi-Fi network—the machine will do the rest of the work for you.

IP Address and DHCP
We actually covered these two terms in a recent blog post, so some of our readers may already be pretty familiar with them. But just in case you missed that particular post (or would like to have your memory refreshed), here’s what we had to say on the subject:

An Internet Protocol Address is a specific “code” that corresponds to a single web-enabled device on a network. The address is made up of four different numbers, each one ranging from 0 to 255 and separated from the others with a period…When you tell your browser to download something (webpages, email, files, etc.), your IP address is what guides the content to your specific machine.

Most IP addresses are dynamic, which means that they change from time to time—your computer/tablet/device doesn’t have its own number so much as a number is “leased” to it every time you want to use a network. IP addresses are usually leased for a period of seven days, and while they’re often renewed automatically (so a computer could, in theory, have the same dynamic IP address for years), they do sometimes expire.

This is where a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP, comes in. The DHCP that your network uses is usually managed by your internet service provider, and it has a “bank” of IP addresses that are available for it to give to people. When someone goes online and needs a new IP address, the DHCP assigns their computer the next available one that it has. In most cases, this whole process happens in a fraction of a second, and the computer’s user doesn’t even notice it.

Bonus “Advanced” Term: DoS Attack
Here’s a phrase to whip out if you want to impress your friends! A “Denial of Service” Attack is a popular way for hackers to crash websites (or computer networks) that they’ve decided to target for one reason or another. During a DoS Attack, a website will suddenly see an enormous surge in traffic, and the sheer number of requests will overwhelm the system. This causes the site to slow down to a crawl, and eventually, it will become completely inaccessible to legitimate users. Since a single computer is usually not powerful or fast enough to devastate a network in this way, DoS attacks typically involve multiple computers—often ones that have been infected by a virus or “worm” that takes control of the computer without the owner’s knowledge.

Think of it this way: a DoS attack is like a huge mob of people—led by one “prankster”— descending upon a convenience store and deliberately causing chaos by knocking things off of shelves, spilling food, and everyone trying to get the cashier’s attention at once. With all of this happening simultaneously, the store employees are too overwhelmed to help anyone. Meanwhile, the “regular” customers who just want to purchase beverages or lottery tickets can’t get any service, so they leave the store without buying anything.

This list is by no means exhaustive—we’ve barely scratched the surface of networking and computer terminology. But we hope that you’re now a little more tech-savvy than you were just a few minutes ago. Perhaps we’ve even piqued your interest in learning more about computers. Still, if your PC is giving you trouble and you’re not sure what to do, give us a call at 817-756-2241. Our technicians will figure out what’s plaguing your computer or network connections…and they’ll explain the problem in terms that you can understand!

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