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What is LAN (Local Area Network)? Examples you need to know

By Tibor Moes / September 2022

What is LAN (Local Area Network)? Examples you need to know

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Having multiple devices in one place is very handy, but you aren’t getting the most out of your setup if the devices aren’t connected. With the right solution, you could have file transferring, storage sharing, remote assistance, and many other functions readily available. LAN allows you to do all of this.

Summary: Local Area Network (LAN) allows multiple devices to connect to each other simultaneously, over a local network. That means that they do not need the internet to communicate. Instead, they connect with each other via your own miniature internet, built in your home of office. Examples include office networks used by companies and public LANs like the ones in hotels or bars.

Tip: Every network and device needs protection, whether local or public. Install antivirus software to protect your devices from threats and download a VPN service to guard your digital privacy.

What is LAN (Local Area Network)?

Much of what a local area network does is explained in the name: It connects devices in a local area into a single network. The local aspect is what sets LAN apart from other network types that can function on a wide (WAN) or even metropolitan (MAN) level.

It should be noted that there isn’t a clear definition of “local.” LANs could be as small as two devices or as large as a company-spanning network with thousands of connected devices in a building. However, a LAN is typically bound to a single physical location, typically spanning an apartment, office, or a building, depending on what it’s used for.

Today, Ethernet connections and Wi-Fi are the default options for LAN setups.

How Does a LAN Work?

A local area network requires several crucial components to function:

  • Router

  • Switches (optional)

  • Cables or Wi-Fi

  • Modem and Internet connection (optional)

The modem provides access points to the internet and the router distributes the connection to various devices. However, it should be noted that LAN is a purely connection-based concept. The LAN itself doesn’t have to be connected to the internet and serve only as a way to transfer information from one device to the other.

Switches can be installed to enable devices to share the connection via the same access point, although this component isn’t necessary in all cases. The data is transferred via Ethernet cables or using Wi-Fi, whichever is more convenient. A PC will usually need to connect to a switch via Ethernet during setup.

Many modern network devices combine a modem and wireless router, making the local area network setup less complicated. Wireless LAN routers can still provide connection via Ethernet cables.

How to Set Up a Physical LAN

First, you should know how many devices will be connected. If it’s four or fewer, a single regular router should suffice. But if your LAN needs to handle more than four devices, you’ll need one or several switches.

Network switches function much like electrical socket extensions: One end is plugged into the source, while the other end contains multiple exit points. A switch can have anywhere from four to dozens of slots. In other words, you can plug the switch into a single Ethernet port on your router and use it to connect several devices to the network.

Next, you’ll want to determine if all devices within your local area network will need an internet connection. If so, your setup so far will look like this:

  • The router receives the internet connection.

  • Ethernet cables lead from the router to each device or the connection is established via Wi Fi.

  • Alternatively, switches are connected to one or more router ports. The network is distributed through the switches, again using Ethernet cables.

However, if you don’t want all devices to have internet access, you might not want to use a router in your LAN setup. Instead, you can use only the switches to connect computers into a closed-off network.

When connecting devices to the local area network, you’ll need to consider the physical distance. It’s important to remember that network cables can’t function optimally at lengths over 330 feet. If the cable is longer than that, the signal going through it will weaken considerably, making the network on the receiving end highly unstable.

For most homes and offices, this won’t represent an issue. Still, if you need to connect devices more than 330 feet apart, it would be best to use a switch to bridge the connection between two shorter cables.

The final part of the setup will depend on whether all devices on your local area network are sharing a single internet connection or not.

If the connection is shared across all devices, it will be necessary to verify it on each device. This will include entering the password and enabling automatic connection, which will likely be turned on by default.

If you’re using only a network switch to connect computers without access to the internet, you’ll need to set up a LAN server. The server will assign an IP address to the connected devices, which will be necessary for the network to function properly. While setting up a server might sound complex and technical, this process is, in fact, quite straightforward.

A single computer will act as a server. On that computer, you’ll need to install a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). Luckily, this is made easy with either the in-built features of your operating system or third-party tools. Whether you’re using Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, or another system, installing the DHCP shouldn’t represent a challenge.

Once the server is in place, the connected devices will get individual IP addresses.

Finally, to make the most out of the connected computers on your local area network, each device will need to have file sharing enabled. When that’s done, your LAN will be good to go.

Setting Up a Wireless LAN (WLAN)

Wireless LAN (or WLAN) setup is somewhat different than the physical variant. Naturally, there are fewer cables involved and switches aren’t necessary at all.

Setting up a local area network to function via Wi-Fi will require a Wi-Fi router to establish the wireless connection.

To get your Wi-Fi local area network started, you’ll need to:

  1. Connect a computer to your router with an Ethernet cable.

  2. Open the computer’s browser.

  3. Enter the IP address of your router into the browser’s address bar. You’ll find the address printed on the bottom of the router.

  4. To go to router settings, enter the username and password. These will initially be set to defaults – in most cases, “admin” for the username and “admin” or “password” for the password. You can find the specific login credentials for your router by looking up the model on the manufacturer’s website. Some routers also display it on the back.

  5. Navigate to wireless settings. The exact name of the section will differ from one manufacturer to the next.

  6. You can change the name and password for your Wi-Fi network here. The name will usually be in the SSID or “network name” field.

  7. To set up the password, find security options and choose WPA2 if available. Don’t go for WPA or WEP since those are older, less safe security standards.

  8. Enter a strong password in the appropriate field. The filed might be called “WPA Key” or similar, depending on your router model.

  9. Make sure the Wi-Fi connection is enabled and save your changes.

With these steps done, wireless network traffic will be established between all devices connected to the LAN.

What Types of LAN Are There?

A local area network is a relatively simple concept. Essentially, it’s a computer network that connects devices sharing network traffic and file storage. There are only a few variants of this type of networking.

By Connection Type

You can have a wired LAN or one set up for wireless devices. Wired LAN, of course, uses Ethernet cabling while wireless functions through radio waves – Wi-Fi.

By Device Hierarchy

However, there’s another way to determine the type of local area network: by device hierarchy. In that sense, the network can be peer-to-peer or client/server LAN.

In a peer-to-peer LAN, the connection is established between a smaller number of devices. These devices share resources equally and bear the same load – there’s no central server. Peer-to-peer LANs can’t handle the same workload as a client/server LAN. For that reason, this local area network type is best used as a point-to-point home network.

On the other hand, a client/server LAN is a better fit for businesses, buildings, corporations, or any other environments that need a robust connection for several devices.

In this type of LAN, a central server (a specialized computer that never turns off) manages file storage, network access control, document sharing, application access, and all other aspects of the network.

Other devices – clients – connect to the server either through an Ethernet cable or a Wi-Fi access point. The internal servers in these local area networks house various application suites. The clients can access and share documents, email, and other services.

The Difference Between LANs, MANs, and WANs

At this point, you might wonder what sets apart local area networks from other types. While the service area is a significant difference, there’s another crucial distinction.

Metropolitan area networks (MANs) represent multiple connected LANs. WAN goes a step further and typically connects MANs. Essentially, it’s a matter of scope.

Imagine it like this: Your personal computer is connected to a LAN server which allows the device access to the internet, as well as other devices. Even if all computers in the same building belong to that network, it’s still considered a LAN.

Now imagine your network connecting with a number of other LANs throughout the city. At that point, we can talk about a metropolitan area network.

Since there’s no agreement about the minimal network scope, a metropolitan area network could also be counted among wide area networks (WANs). Yet, in practice, wide area networks usually have a greater reach than MANs.

When many other LANs are connected into a massive system, they can be organized through a virtual LAN. Virtual LANs group individual devices from different LANs and assign them to specific domains. This helps to put various network segments in order and provides a more streamlined network functionality.

Local Area Network Examples

The best way to represent different types of a local area network would be through its use. By that standard, a LAN could be:

  • Home

  • Office

  • Personal

  • Public

  • Storage

  • Offline

Home Network

This is often a peer-to-peer network that handles a relatively small number of devices. Most commonly, a home LAN will have a few PCs, smartphones, TVs and some peripherals like a printer, smart doorbell, or virtual assistant (like Alexa) that can use the network.

Office Network

Companies often link office devices into a single network for easier workload management and file sharing.

Personal Network

It’s possible to set up several personal LANs at the same location to keep sensitive and public information separated. The most common example of this would be in home offices.

Public Network

The most common example of public networks is the Wi-Fi you can catch at a café. These wireless LANs provide Wi-Fi protected access to the internet but don’t allow file sharing or other services.

Resources

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Local Area Network (LAN) used for?

LANs are computer networks used to connect several devices for file storage and sharing as well as online access.

Is a Home Network a LAN?

A home network is a smaller type of LAN often used only for personal purposes.

What are 3 types of LAN?

In computer science, LANs are divided into three typologies: star, ring, and bus. These are based on how information gets from one host (device) to another. A star network uses a central device (switch or router) to transmit data. A ring network sends information from one host to the next until it reaches its destination. A bus network broadcasts all information through a single shared connection to all hosts.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most leading antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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