The Difference Between a LAN and a WAN

The difference between a Local Area Network (LAN) and a Wide Area Network (WAN) is the expanse and physical size of the network. If you’re unsure what a computer network is or need a refresher on what makes a computer network please read this other post first – What is a Computer Network? 

A Local Area Network (LAN) is a small network of computers or network nodes. Just like in your home, you have a small network that connects all your devices together through your router. However, this doesn’t mean a LAN is just contained within one building, it can be a multi-office location network. Imagine you have more devices connected to a router across multiple buildings. All of the devices within a network must have a unique IP address. If you don’t know what an IP address is or what they are for then please check out the following post – What is an IP Address?

A Wide Area Network (WAN) is a network that covers a bigger area than a LAN. WANs are typically defined by taking multiple LANs and connecting them together. Imagine a business that has a LAN in one country and another LAN in another country. These two LANs could be connected through the internet to allow shared folders, a common Active Directory (AD), etc. The overall network is now classified as a WAN that is made up of two LANs. Although, you don’t need to connect LANs through the internet. You could have two LANs in two buildings and physically connect them yourself by connecting the two external routers of each LAN.

All the devices within a network are connected either wirelessly or by physical ethernet cables. There are different wireless technologies and different ethernet cables that are used for different versions. For example, there are cables best suited for long distances and others that are better for shorter distances or faster speeds. If you want to know more about ethernet cables and the different categories and types please check out the following post – Ethernet Cables Explained

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