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A computer network is a group of interconnected computers. Networks may be classified according to a wide variety of characteristics. This article provides a general overview of some types and categories and also presents the basic components of a network.

A computer network is a collection of computers and devices connected to each other. The network allows computers to communicate with each other and share resources and information. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) designed "Advanced Research Projects Agency Network" (ARPANET) for the United States Department of Defense. It was the first computer network in the world in late 1960s and early 1970s.
Types of networks
Below is a list of the most common types of computer networks in order of scale.

Personal area network
A personal area network (PAN) is a computer network used for communication among computer devices close to one person. Some examples of devices that are used in a PAN are printers, fax machines, telephones, PDAs and scanners. The reach of a PAN is typically about 20-30 feet (approximately 6-9 meters), but this is expected to increase with technology improvements.

Local area network
A local area network (LAN) is a computer network covering a small physical area, like a home, office, or small group of buildings, such as a school, or an airport. Current wired LANs are most likely to be based on Ethernet technology, although new standards like ITU-T also provide a way to create a wired LAN using existing home wires (coaxial cables, phone lines and power lines).

For example, a library may have a wired or wireless LAN for users to interconnect local devices (e.g., printers and servers) and to connect to the internet. On a wired LAN, PCs in the library are typically connected by category 5 (Cat5) cable, running the IEEE 802.3 protocol through a system of interconnected devices and eventually connect to the Internet. The cables to the servers are typically on Cat 5e enhanced cable, which will support IEEE 802.3 at 1 Gbit/s. A wireless LAN may exist using a different IEEE protocol, 802.11b, 802.11g or possibly 802.11n. The staff computers (bright green in the figure) can get to the color printer, checkout records, and the academic network and the Internet. All user computers can get to the Internet and the card catalog. Each workgroup can get to its local printer. Note that the printers are not accessible from outside their workgroup.

Campus area network
A campus area network (CAN) is a computer network made up of an interconnection of local area networks (LANs) within a limited geographical area. It can be considered one form of a metropolitan area network, specific to an academic setting.

In the case of a university campus-based campus area network, the network is likely to link a variety of campus buildings including; academic departments, the university library and student residence halls. A campus area network is larger than a local area network but smaller than a wide area network (WAN) (in some cases).

The main aim of a campus area network is to facilitate students accessing internet and university resources. This is a network that connects two or more LANs but that is limited to a specific and contiguous geographical area such as a college campus, industrial complex, office building, or a military base. A CAN may be considered a type of MAN (metropolitan area network), but is generally limited to a smaller area than a typical MAN. This term is most often used to discuss the implementation of networks for a contiguous area. This should not be confused with a Controller Area Network. A LAN connects network devices over a relatively short distance. A networked office building, school, or home usually contains a single LAN, though sometimes one building will contain a few small LANs (perhaps one per room), and occasionally a LAN will span a group of nearby buildings. In TCP/IP networking, a LAN is often but not always implemented as a single IP subnet.

Metropolitan area network
A metropolitan area network (MAN) is a network that connects two or more local area networks or campus area networks together but does not extend beyond the boundaries of the immediate town/city. Routers, switches and hubs are connected to create a metropolitan area network.

Wide area network
A wide area network (WAN) is a computer network that covers a broad area (i.e. any network whose communications links cross metropolitan, regional, or national boundaries [1]). Less formally, a WAN is a network that uses routers and public communications links [1]. Contrast with personal area networks (PANs), local area networks (LANs), campus area networks (CANs), or metropolitan area networks (MANs), which are usually limited to a room, building, campus or specific metropolitan area (e.g., a city) respectively. The largest and most well-known example of a WAN is the Internet. A WAN is a data communications network that covers a relatively broad geographic area (i.e. one city to another and one country to another country) and that often uses transmission facilities provided by common carriers, such as telephone companies. WAN technologies generally function at the lower three layers of the OSI reference model: the physical layer, the data link layer, and the network layer.

Global area network
A global area networks (GAN) specification is in development by several groups, and there is no common definition. In general, however, a GAN is a model for supporting mobile communications across an arbitrary number of wireless LANs, satellite coverage areas, etc. The key challenge in mobile communications is "handing off" the user communications from one local coverage area to the next. In IEEE Project 802, this involves a succession of terrestrial WIRELESS local area.

Virtual private network
A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network in which some of the links between nodes are carried by open connections or virtual circuits in some larger network (e.g., the Internet) instead of by physical wires. The link-layer protocols of the virtual network are said to be tunneled through the larger network when this is the case. One common application is secure communications through the public Internet, but a VPN need not have explicit security features, such as authentication or content encryption. VPNs, for example, can be used to separate the traffic of different user communities over an underlying network with strong security features.

A VPN may have best-effort performance, or may have a defined service level agreement (SLA) between the VPN customer and the VPN service provider. Generally, a VPN has a topology more complex than point-to-point.

A VPN allows computer users to appear to be editing from an IP address location other than the one which connects the actual computer to the Internet.

Internetwork Internetworking involves connecting two or more distinct computer networks or network segments via a common routing technology. The result is called an internetwork (often shortened to internet). Two or more networks or network segments connected using devices that operate at layer 3 (the 'network' layer) of the OSI Basic Reference Model, such as a router. Any interconnection among or between public, private, commercial, industrial, or governmental networks may also be defined as an internetwork. In modern practice, the interconnected networks use the Internet Protocol. There are at least three variants of internetwork, depending on who administers and who participates in them:

  • Intranet
  • Extranet
  • Interne

Intranets and extranets may or may not have connections to the Internet. If connected to the Internet, the intranet or extranet is normally protected from being accessed from the Internet without proper authorization. The Internet is not considered to be a part of the intranet or extranet, although it may serve as a portal for access to portions of an extranet