Networking Devices

All networks are made up of basic hardware building blocks to interconnect network nodes, such as Network Interface Cards (NICs), Bridges, Hubs, Switches, and Routers etc. These devices also need cables to connect them. In this tutorial, we are going to discuss these important devices.  

 Network interface cards

A NIC (network interface card) is a piece of computer hardware designed to allow computers to communicate over a computer network. It provides physical access to a networking medium and often provides a low-level addressing system through the use of MAC addresses. It allows users to connect to each other either by using cables or wirelessly.The NIC provides the transfer of data in  megabytes. 



Every device on a network that needs to transmit and receive data must have a network interface card (NIC) installed. They are sometimes called network adapters, and are usually installed into one of the computer’s expansion slots in the same way as a sound or graphics card. The NIC includes a transceiver, (a transmitter and receiver combined). The transceiver allows a network device to transmit and receive data via the transmission medium. Each NIC has a unique 48-bit Media Access Control (MAC) address burned in to its ROM during manufacture. The first 24 bits make up a block code known as the Organisationally Unique Identifier (OUI) that is issued to manufacturers of NICs, and identify the manufacturer. The issue of OUIs to organisations is administered by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The last 24 bits constitute a sequential number issued by the manufacturer. The MAC address is sometimes called a hardware address or physical address, and uniquely identifies the network adapter. It is used by many data link layer communications protocols, including Ethernet, the 802.11 wireless protocol and Bluetooth. The use of a 48-bit adress allows for 248(281,474,976,710,656) unique addresses. A MAC address is usually shown in hexadecimal format, with each octet separated by a dash or colon, 

For example: 00-60-55-93-R2-N7



A repeater is an electronic device that receives a signal and retransmits it at a higher power level, or to the other side of an obstruction, so that the signal can cover longer distances without degradation. In most twisted pair ethernet configurations, repeaters are required for cable runs longer than 100 meters away from the computer.  

As signals travel along a transmission medium there will be a loss of signal strength i.e. attenuation. A repeater is a non-intelligent network device that receives a signal on one of its ports, regenerates the signal, and then retransmits the signal on all of its remaining ports. Repeaters can extend the length of a network (but not the capacity) by connecting two network segments. Repeaters cannot be used to extend a network beyond the limitations of its underlying architecture, or to connect network segments that use different network access methods. They can, however, connect different media types, and may be able to link bridge segments with different data rates. 


Repeaters are used to boost signals in coaxial and twisted pair cable and in optical fibre lines. An electrical signal in a cable gets weaker the further it travels, due to energy dissipated in conductor resistance and dielectric losses. Similarly a light signal traveling through an optical fiber suffers attenuation due to scattering and absorption. In long cable runs, repeaters are used to periodically regenerate and strengthen the signal.  



A hub contains multiple ports. When a packet arrives at one port, it is copied to all the ports of the hub for transmission. In a hub, a frame is passed along or “broadcast” to every one of its ports. It doesn’t matter that the frame is only destined for one port. The hub has no way of distinguishing which port a frame should be sent to. Passing it along to every port ensures that it will reach its intended destination. This places a lot of traffic on the network and can lead to poor network response times. Additionally, a 10/100Mbps hub must share its bandwidth with each and every one of its ports. So when only one PC is broadcasting, it will have access to the maximum available bandwidth. If, however, multiple PCs are broadcasting, then that bandwidth will need to be divided among all of those systems, which will degrade performance.

Network Hub


A network bridge connects multiple network segmentsat the data link layer(layer 2) of the OSI model. Bridges do not copy traffic to all ports, as hubs do, but learn which MAC addresses are reachable through specific ports. Once the bridge associates a port and an address, it will send traffic for that address only to that port. Bridges do send broadcasts to all ports except the one on which the broadcast was received. 

Bridges learn the association of ports and addresses by examining the source address of frames that it sees on various ports. Once a frame arrives through a port, its source address is stored and the bridge assumes that MAC address is associated with that port. The first time that a previously unknown destination address is seen, the bridge will forward the frame to all ports other than the one on which the frame arrived. 

Network Bridge
Bridges don’t know anything about protocols, but just forward data depending on the destination address in the data packet. This address is not the IP address, but the MAC (Media Access Control) address that is unique to each network adapter card. The bridge is basically just to connect two local-area networks (LANs), or two segments of the same LAN that use the same protocol. Bridges can extend the length of a network, but unlike repeaters they can also extend the capacity of a network, since each port on a bridge has its own MAC address. When bridges are powered on in an Ethernet network, they start to learn the network’s topology by analysing the source addresses of incoming frames from all attached network segments (a process called backward learning ). Over a period of time, they build up a routing table . 
The bridge monitors all traffic on the segments it connects, and checks the source and destination address of each frame against its routing table. When the bridge first becomes operational, the routing table is blank, but as data is transmitted back and forth, the bridge adds the source MAC address of any incoming frame to the routing table and associates the address with the port on which the frame arrives. In this way, the bridge quickly builds up a complete picture of the network topology. If the bridge does not know the destination segment for an incoming frame, it will forward the frame to all attached segments except the segment on which the frame was transmitted. Bridges reduce the amount of traffic on individual segments by acting as a filter, isolating intra-segment traffic. This can greatly improve response times.


The switch is a relatively new network device that has replaced both hubs and bridges in LANs. A switch uses an internal address table to route incoming data frames via the port associated with their destination MAC address. Switches can be used to connect together a number of end-user devices such as workstations, or to interconnect multiple network segments. A switch that interconnects end-user devices is often called a workgroup switch. Switches provide dedicated full-duplex links for every possible pairing of ports, effectively giving each attached device its own network segment This significantly reduces the number of intra-segment and inter-segment collisions. Strictly speaking, a switch is not capable of routing traffic based on IP address (layer 3) which is necessary for communicating between network segments or within a large or complex LAN. Some switches are capable of routing based on IP addresses but are still called switches as a marketing term. A switch normally has numerous ports, with the intention being that most or all of the network is connected directly to the switch, or another switch that is in turn connected to a switch.


Network Switch



Routers are networking devices that forward data packets between networks using headers and forwarding tables to determine the best path to forward the packets. A network environment that consists of several interconnected networks employing different network protocols and architectures requires a sophisticated device to manage the flow of traffic between these diverse networks. Such a device, sometimes referred to as an intermediate system, but more commonly called a router, must be able to determine how to get incoming packets (or datagrams) to the destination network by the most efficient route. Routers gather information about the networks to which they are connected, and can share this information with routers on other networks. The information gathered is stored in the router’s internal routing table, and includes both the routing information itself and the current status of various network links. Routers exchange this routing information using special routing protocols. 


A router is connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its ISP’s network. Routers are located at gateways, the places where two or more networks connect, and are the critical device that keeps data flowing between networks and keeps the networks connected to the Internet. When data is sent between locations on one network or from one network to a second network the data is always seen and directed to the correct location by the router. The router accomplishes this by using headers and forwarding tables to determine the best path for forwarding the data packets, and they also use protocols such as ICMP to communicate with each other and configure the best route between any two hosts. The Internet itself is a global network connecting millions of computers and smaller networks. There are various routing protocols which are helpful for various different environments and will be discussed later. 



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