Networking Foundations

General Picture

Networking is a very vast subject. As a developer or software engineer, a detailed view of how everything work is not necessary but having a high-level picture of how the different parts work together goes a long way.

We should have a general mental models that is good enough to understand higher levels of abtraction protocols, such as Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Physical Network

The high-level protocols named above rely on physical infrastructure in order to function. They are dependant of the limitations of such infrastructure, such as network bandwidth and latency.

See Physical Network.


Protocols are a locical sets of rules designed and engineered as they are. See Protocols for more details.

IP: Ennabling Communication Between Devices

Internet Protocol (IP) is a key part of how internet work. Having a clear mental model of what it does is essential.

What is Internet?

Internet was developped in the 1970s. The project has evolved from the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency NETwork) in order to create a communication system that might survive a nuclear attack.

The idea of Paul Baran was to break messages into blocks and send them as fast as possible in every possible direction through the mesh network.

the Internet is made of a large number of independently opreated networks which is fully distributed; there are no center control that decides how packets are routed (theorically).

The independent networks have an interest in having an end-to-end connectivity of every part of the network because the utility of the net is that any device can communicate with any other device (a bit like phone calls).

The key point is that Internet is a network of networks.

See a more detailed explanation and more on Khan Academy.

What is a Network?

A network is said of devices connected in a way that permits communication and exchange of data. A simple example of network is to connect two computers directly using a LAN cable and configuring their network settings.

LAN: Local Area Network

A LAN or WLAN (for Wireless LAN) is said of multiple computers connected to a central machine, generally a hub or a switch which lets them communicate (rules may apply). This forms the network.

This is common in office environment and home network.

In a home, the central machine is generally a router which also assume the role of a simple switch.

Inter-Network Communication

Each LAN network is confined to its local environment and geographic limitation. In order to create a network of networks (inter-network), we need a way to enable communication between those networks. This is done thanks to a networking computer called a router. Routers route traffic to other networks. They act as gateways into and out of the network.

The Internet is an extrapolation of this principle: between each sub-networks are systems of routers that direct the network traffic. This is a simplification but still a good mental model to start with.

The router then connect to a a Wide Area Network or WAN which is likely a router provided by the Internet Service Provider or ISP. The ISP’s routers themselve connect to the backbone of the Internet.

The hops from one computer to the backbone and then to the intended server can be traced using the traceroute command.