Router configuration for dabblers - trying to make sense of networking concepts.

Where computer networks once existed primarily in the corporate world there is an increasing presence of networks in small businesses and residences. However, while the high availability of low-cost network products make it attractive for novices to attempt their own network administration - there remains the barrier of basic knowledge. Network routing is often presented in a confusing new high-level technical vocabulary that increases the difficulty of learning new concepts. This article will attempt to simply some core ideas that can apply to many simple networks. First some definitions.

This is a discussion of "standard" TCP/IP networks - which are the form most often encountered by novice users today. No other protocols are considered in this discussion.

Another caveat - security, isolation, and management are not considered here. The object here is both to be able to configure one or more functional routed networks - and to know why they are functional.

Networks are networks

First, don't get lost in the many terms used to describe networks. Subnet, private address space, public address space, Class C network, VPN, and others - for purposes of this discussion - are all the same. So - what makes a network?

In the IP world a network address, specifically an IPv4 address, is a segmented number like 1.2.3.4. What the number is doesn't matter - what does matter is that it is unique among all devices connected to each other.

The next item is the subnet mask. Presented either in a format like 255.255.255.0, or abbreviated as /24, this determines how much of the network address is considered the "network" and how much is the "host". For our purposes just know that every device that is part of the same network has the same subnet mask and the same leading numbers for the address. A typical example would be 192.168.0.25/24 - the /24 means the first three parts of the address are the network, i.e. 192.168.0. So every computer (or device - we'll just use computer from now on) that is to be on the same network needs to have an address that starts with 192.168.0 and has to have a subnet mask of 24 or 255.255.255.0 (the same thing written different ways).

This brings us to the last item. All computers in a network are able to communicate directly with each other without requiring a router. Just a live connection - whether a single interconnecting cable, a hub, a switch, or a Wi-Fi access point is all that is required. But only if all such computers are in the same network (same prefix/network address, same subnet mask).

For our purposes a network is any group of IP addresses that can communicate with each other without a router. That includes a single computer (talking to itself), some computers getting a Wi-Fi signal from a hotspot, or a quantity of computers or devices in a small business or home.

Again, trying to focus on routing, we will not discuss DHCP or other protocols.

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