A local area network (LAN) is a computer network that interconnects computers within a limited area such as a residence, school, laboratory, university campus or office building. By contrast, a wide area network (WAN) not only covers a larger geographic distance, but also generally involves leased telecommunication circuits.
Ethernet and Wi-Fi are the two most common technologies in use for local area networks. Historical network technologies include ARCNET, Token Ring, and AppleTalk.
Technical aspects of LAN
Network topology describes the layout of interconnections between devices and network segments. At the data link layer and physical layer, a wide variety of LAN topologies have been used, including ring, bus, mesh and star.
Simple LANs generally consist of cabling and one or more switches. A switch can be connected to a router, cable modem, or ADSL modem for Internet access. A LAN can include a wide variety of other network devices such as firewalls, load balancers, and network intrusion detection. Advanced LANs are characterized by their use of redundant links with switches using the spanning tree protocol to prevent loops, their ability to manage differing traffic types via quality of service (QoS), and their ability to segregate traffic with VLANs.
At the higher network layers, protocols such as NetBIOS, IPX/SPX, AppleTalk and others were once common, but the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) has prevailed as the standard of choice.
LANs can maintain connections with other LANs via leased lines, leased services, or across the Internet using virtual private network technologies. Depending on how the connections are established and secured, and the distance involved, such linked LANs may also be classified as a metropolitan area network (MAN) or a wide area network (WAN).
Wireless media of LAN
In a wireless LAN, users have unrestricted movement within the coverage area. Wireless networks have become popular in residences and small businesses, because of their ease of installation. Most wireless LANs use Wi-Fi as it is built into smartphones, tablet computers and laptops. Guests are often offered Internet access via a hotspot service
Early Ethernet (10BASE-5 and 10BASE-2) used coaxial cable. Shielded twisted pair was used in IBM’s Token Ring LAN implementation. In 1984, StarLAN showed the potential of simple unshielded twisted pair by using category 3 cable—the same cable used for telephone systems. This led to the development of 10BASE-T (and its twisted-pair successors) and structured cabling which is still the basis of most commercial LANs today.
While optical fiber cable is common for links between network switches, use of fiber to the desktop is rare.