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local area network (LAN)

A local area network (LAN) is a group of computers and associated devices that share a common communications line or wireless link. Typically, connected devices share the resources of a single processor or server within a small geographic area.

A local area network (LAN) is a group of computers and associated devices that share a common communications line or wireless link. Typically, connected devices share the resources of a single processor or server within a small geographic area (for example, within an office building). Usually, the server has applications and data storage that are shared in common by multiple computer users. A local area network may serve as few as two or three users (for example, in a home network) or as many as thousands of users (for example, in an FDDI network). 

Major local area network technologies are:

 Ethernet
 Token Ring
 FDDI
 

Ethernet is by far the most commonly used LAN technology. A number of corporations use the Token Ring technology. FDDI is sometimes used as a backbone LAN interconnecting Ethernet or Token Ring LANs. Another LAN technology, ARCNET, once the most commonly installed LAN technology, is still used in the industrial automation industry.

Typically, a suite of application programs can be kept on the LAN server. Users who need an application frequently can download it once and then run it from their local hard disk. Users can order printing and other services as needed through applications run on the LAN server. A user can share files with others at the LAN server; read and write access is maintained by a LAN administrator. A LAN server may also be used as a Web server if safeguards are taken to secure internal applications and data from outside access.

In some situations, a wireless LAN may be preferable to a wired LAN because it is cheaper to install and maintain.

This was first published in August 2006

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