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local-area network
Last modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 

A computer network that spans a relatively small area. Most LANs are confined to a single building or group of buildings. However, one LAN can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines and radio waves. A system of LANs connected in this way is called a wide-area network (WAN).

Most LANs connect workstations and personal computers. Each node (individual computer ) in a LAN has its own CPU with which it executes programs, but it also is able to access data and devices anywhere on the LAN. This means that many users can share expensive devices, such as laser printers, as well as data. Users can also use the LAN to communicate with each other, by sending e-mail or engaging in chat sessions.

There are many different types of LANs Ethernets being the most common for PCs. Most Apple Macintosh networks are based on Apple's AppleTalk network system, which is built into Macintosh computers.

The following characteristics differentiate one LAN from another:

  • topology : The geometric arrangement of devices on the network. For example, devices can be arranged in a ring or in a straight line.
  • protocols : The rules and encoding specifications for sending data. The protocols also determine whether the network uses a peer-to-peer or client/server architecture.
  • media : Devices can be connected by twisted-pair wire, coaxial cables, or fiber optic cables. Some networks do without connecting media altogether, communicating instead via radio waves.
  • LANs are capable of transmitting data at very fast rates, much faster than data can be transmitted over a telephone line; but the distances are limited, and there is also a limit on the number of computers that can be attached to a single LAN.

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    related categories

    Business Computing

    Network Topologies

    Networks

    related terms

    5-4-3 rule

    AppleTalk

    ARCnet

    attenuation crosstalk ratio

    bridge

    CAN

    client/server architecture

    DCC

    e-mail

    Ethernet

    HAN

    HPNA

    HSRP

    IEEE 802 standards

    internetworking

    iSCSI

    LANE

    logical topology

    MAN

    NetWare

    network

    network interface card

    network operating system

    network-attached storage

    node


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