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Understanding Your Network

Time to translate some of our nerd speek so you actually know what we’re talking about.

So basically…

We want to look at a few key areas of your network and let you know a little more about them. For example, what is your computer’s IP address? How did it get it? How does that talk to google.com to get you useful ~cough~ cat videos ~cough~ work files? It’s actually not as complicated as you might think.

DHCP

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Sounds scary but it isn’t. Essentially, whatever is doing DHCP hands out IP addresses to devices connected to that network.

IP

In the most simple of terms, your IP is your address on a network. Much like your house has a street address.

DNS

Domain Name System. This is how your computer knows where google.com (a domain name) actually is on the internet. Without it, you wouldn’t be on the web.

Data Flow

Data moves through your network much like mail through the postal service. Before we can go forward on that analogy, however, we need to drop back and understand something: internal vs external IP’s. So what do we mean by internal or external IP? Within your network, you have an internal IP address. Your router/server keeps track of each devices’ address to know what sent information and where to return information. Outside of your house, your internet provider has given you one singular IP address. This is your external IP address (you can see what yours is at whatismyip.com). Your router uses this singular IP to communicate with the world.

How Does it Work?

Back to the letter analogy, think about your computer writing a message and putting it in an envelope for delivery. The “message” is sent to the router which then delivers it to its destination. In technical terms, your computer sends a packet of information to the router. The router records which computer (it’s IP address) sent the information and then replaces the computer’s IP with the router’s external IP and forwards the information to its destination. When the router receives a reponse, it looks at its logs to see which computer requested that response and then sends it back to that computer’s internal IP address.

Why does DNS matter?

DNS is extremely important. Websites don’t magically sit out there for everyone. Rather, they live on a server somewhere which has an IP address. When your computer requests google.com, the DNS server (usually your router unless you have an actual server) looks up the IP address that belongs to the website and gets you to the right place. Otherwise, you’d stare at an infinitely spinning circle while your computer wondered where google.com actually was. Try it yourself. If you type in 74.125.21.113 in your browser and you’ll wind up at google.com! Aren’t you glad you have a DNS server to handle that for you so you don’t have to memorize all of those numbers for every website you visit?

Anything Else?

We mentioned your computer sending “packets” and you’ll often hear us say “I see packets flowing” when troubleshooting. Packets are how your computer sends and receives information. Essentially, they are little pieces of whatever the computer needs which can be combined to create the entire picture. If we don’t see packets moving across your network, that usually means there is a bad cable or something isn’t turned on. If you look at your router or a switch, you’ll probably notice some rapidly blinking lights on the ports where the cables are. Those are packets in motion!

Your Network Probably Isn’t as Complicated as You Thought

Or at least we hope we didn’t go too technical with this Article. And of course, we are always open to contact. Let us know if you have questions or if we might explain a particular area better… We’re just a click and a few packets away.

 

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