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What is LAN? Understanding local area networks

Local area networks, or LANs, play a major role in internet infrastructure. In this article, we will explain what a LAN is, how LANs work in practice, and why they can be beneficial. We will also highlight some of the different types of LAN that are commonly used today.

What is LAN? Understanding local area networks

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is a LAN?

A local area network, or LAN, is a network of devices that exist in the same physical space. They can range in size from a few phones connected over one router to a larger ecosystem of computers and servers, like those you might find in an office or a school.

LANs can be formed using cables that connect devices and routers, or through wireless signals. An example of a LAN could be your home router and the devices connected to it. Likewise, if you link multiple desktop computers together to play a multiplayer game, you’re also setting up a LAN.

LAN connection is an essential part of how we structure our internet-enabled devices and offers many benefits to users.

LAN benefits

A local area network provides many practical benefits.

  • Efficient resource sharing. Devices connected via a LAN can easily share resources. For example, a printer or a server connected to a LAN can be used by any other device on the network.
  • Inexpensive and easy to set up. A LAN is relatively simple to set up, and doesn’t cost much. All you need to establish a wireless LAN is an internet gateway. As soon as the router is on, any device with the password can connect to it. Likewise, a wired LAN can be set up by running cables from a router to any nearby devices.
  • Fast data transfer. Data shared within a LAN moves quickly. If you want to send files, messages, or other materials to a device on the same LAN as yours, it doesn’t need to leave the network, and so moves rapidly through a wireless router or ethernet cables. This can be very helpful for multiplayer gaming: if you’re running a LAN tournament, for example.
  • Extra security. If you take steps to protect the LAN from cyberattacks, all devices connected to it will also be protected. For example, if your LAN relies on a router, you can configure that router to use a VPN. Any device on the LAN will now send and receive data through encrypted tunnels, protecting them from man-in-the-middle attacks.

These benefits are available across most types of LAN.

LAN types

There are two types of LAN that are commonly used.

Peer-to-peer LAN

The peer-to-peer model is the type of local area network you probably use most. This kind of LAN is a local network in which all the devices operate and process data individually, rather than operating through a central server.

Your home network is a peer-to-peer LAN – all the devices on your Wi-Fi are connected, but they all act and store data individually.

Client/server LAN

The client/server LAN is the other main type of local area network. In this system, multiple devices (referred to as clients) connect to a central server.

A good example of the client/server LAN is a library in a school or university, with multiple computers. Students log in to access stored files, emails, premium software suites, and other applications that are kept on the main server. None of this data is actually being stored on the individual computers. They are just the “clients” on this LAN.

Using a client/server LAN allows administrators to have much more control over how clients operate and what they can access. Client/server LANs are used in most medium-to-large-scale businesses as well as educational establishments and government departments.

What is the topology of a LAN?

LANs typically come in three network topologies, or network structures: bus, ring, and star topologies.

  • Bus: Devices are set up linearly and connected to a single ethernet cable, with smaller cables branching off to connect each device to the main cable.
  • Ring: Devices on the network are connected via point-to-point links, arranged in a circle, and do not rely on any central “master” router or computer.
  • Star: One central connection point (like an internet router) links all the devices, and data must travel through this central point to reach the other parts of the LAN.

When setting up large LANs of any topology, you can use the traceroute diagnostic tool to make sure all nodes on your network are working properly.

Once you’ve selected the network topology you wish to use, it’s time to set up your LAN.

What equipment do you need to set up a LAN?

To set up a LAN you just need multiple devices and a way to link them. You can use a wireless access point (WAP), like a wireless router or a mobile device with its own hotspot. Many household items, like printers, speakers, and TVs, now connect to Wi-Fi. The more of these devices you have, the bigger your LAN will be.

Alternatively, you can use an ethernet cable to connect your devices, provided they each have an ethernet port built into them.

If you don’t have wireless connectivity or ethernet cables, you can also set up a LAN connection with Bluetooth. However, a Bluetooth LAN would be so slow to use that we would not recommend this approach.

How do I secure my LAN?

A local area connection could be targeted by hackers and bad actors. To enhance your LAN security, follow these simple steps.

    1. Protect your router with a strong password. If someone can access your router, they may be able to spy on the network traffic passing through it from your LAN. That’s why it’s vital that you keep your router protected with a strong password. Ideally, it should be a long and complex string of letters, numbers, and symbols, containing at least 10 or more characters.
    2. Create different LANS for different functions. One of the great things about a LAN is that it connects smart household devices, like speakers, TVs, and doorbell cameras. But you don’t want someone hacking your baby monitor or the microphone on your speaker. To lower the risk of that happening, set up one LAN that is only used for your smart home devices and another for devices with wider internet access (computers and tablets, for example). This means that, even if you accidentally compromise your LAN’s security while browsing the internet, a hacker won’t be able to gain access to your other smart devices.
    3. Configure your router with a VPN. You can set up your router so it funnels network traffic through a NordVPN server. This means that any data being sent to and from your LAN network is protected by a layer of powerful encryption. It’s worth noting, of course, that data traveling within the LAN will not be encrypted by the VPN, but that data will be safe while in transit outside of the local network. NordVPN users also benefit from a variety of security features, including ad blocking and malware protection.

Online security starts with a click.

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What is VLAN (virtual LAN)?

A VLAN, or virtual LAN, is a network composed of nodes from several separate physical LANs, which act as if they are all part of one LAN. VLANs are used to partition specific areas within their preexisting LANs, improving traffic management and security.

VLANs can be used to group devices together for efficiency. If certain network nodes across multiple LANs communicate regularly, these can be collected into a single VLAN. Data can move between the nodes faster and more efficiently as a result.

Some security benefits are also offered by VLANs. For example, imagine that a company wishes to create a guest network for people from outside the organization who are temporarily visiting their offices. Instead of connecting them to one of their normal LANs, through which sensitive information may be traveling, the company can set up a VLAN. This gives guests network access without exposing the wider company LANs to undue risk.

How to access LAN remotely

To access your LAN from a remote location, you need to open a specific port on your router, which could be challenging and time-consuming. Opening router ports can also open you up to cybersecurity risks. Instead, we suggest using Meshnet.

Meshnet is a free service that allows you to access your LAN from anywhere. Imagine that you have a desktop computer at home, connected to your LAN. You can enable NordVPN’s Meshnet feature on that computer, and on a device you carry with you (a laptop or a smartphone, for example). You can now route your traffic from your mobile device through that desktop computer, connecting to your LAN from anywhere. Best of all, any traffic between your device and the LAN is encrypted for extra security and privacy.

Meshnet is completely free to use and allows for seamless file sharing too. Just download the NordVPN app and get started with Meshnet today.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN