Network Hardware and Software

In this tutorial, you will learn the basics of Network Hardware and Network Software which includes their definition, types, classification, and their working details. You will also learn about the difference between Network Hardware and Network Software as well as their functionalities.

Contents:

  1. What is Network Hardware?
  2. What is Network Software?
  3. Dimensions of Network Hardware
  4. Software Structuring Techniques of Network Software
  5. How does Network Hardware & Network Software Work in a Network?
  6. Difference between Network Hardware and Network Software
  7. Functionalities of Network Hardware
  8. Functionalities of Network Software

What is Network Hardware?

Network Hardware combines to perform required operations of computer networks and is responsible for data communication. Network Hardware is also known as Network devices.

  • Network hardware contributes to the computer network system and makes the network system function well.
  • Server, Client, Router, Switch, Bridge, Firewall, NIC, Cable, Modem, Repeater, and Gateway are an example of Network Hardware.

What is Network Software?

Network Software is mainly focused on reducing design issues like managing, improving, or deploying a network. It helps network administrators to manage a network and prevents unauthorized access and various cyber-attacks, as by using network software one can restrict access to the network.

  • The two major software used in computer networks are the Operating system and the Protocol suite.
    • Here the function of the Operating system is to support the network. For example, Windows, Mac, and Linux OS can easily connect to a network. One can use the OS to make the system a server.
    • Protocol suite consists of layers and each layer is working according to different protocols. Here, protocol is a set of rules upon which communication devices agree to communicate successfully.
  • Network software is intended for network administrators so that they can set up and install OS & protocol suites (OSI and TCP/IP models) in a network to secure the network.

The below diagram describes about Operating system and Protocol suite.

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Operating system and protocol suite

The above diagram explains about two types of network software, operating system, and protocol suite. Mainly here 3 OS are described in above diagram which is widely used in the world. And the other side is the protocol suite which describes how the data travels from layer to layer over the network by agreeing on the protocol.

Dimensions of Network Hardware

Mainly, network hardware has two important dimensions: Transmission technology and Scale. We will see these in detail below.

  • Transmission Technology:It is used for data communication between sender and receiver. And two types of transmission technology are used in Network Hardware: Point-to-point links and Broadcast links.

    • Point-to-point links:It helps to connect different pairs of machines. As the term “point” suggests, a point-to-point network will have one sender and one receiver.

      • In this type of network, the sender and receiver both can act as a client or server simultaneously.
      • A famous example is telephone calls.
    • Broadcast links:In a broadcast network, all the end devices of a network share a common communication channel. So that, the message sent by any machine can be received by every device connected to that network. It can sometimes use the multicasting concept.

      • Radio broadcast and TV broadcast are an example of broadcast networks.
  • The below diagram explains Transmission technology.

    Point to Point and Broadcast Network
    • The above diagram talks about the two most commonly used transmission technology in the network between the network hardware.
    • You can see that in point to point network there is only one sender and one receiver.
      On the other hand, a message that is transmitted from one device in a broadcast network is transmitted to all the devices connected to it.
  • Scale: Distance is an important factor for a network, leading to the use of different types of topologies at various scales.
    • Network Hardware is set up in a network using a scale, and scale may be PAN (Personal Area Network), LAN (Local Area Network), MAN (Metropolitan Area Network), or WAN (Wide Area Network).
    • You can use PAN when you want to install network hardware on a small scale. For example, setting up Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with a mobile or computer is an example of PAN.
    • You can use LAN when you want to install network hardware within a 100m to 10km radius. The school network, college network, and office network are examples of LANs.
    • MAN is used when you want to set up network hardware in a city network. Similarly, WAN is used for country or global networks.

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Software Structuring Techniques of Network Software

Nowadays software and hardware are integrated into some network devices such as routers and switches. Due to this network software structure is highly structured in today’s time. So, the main five techniques are used to understand the network software structuring. They are as follows:

  1. Protocol Hierarchies
  2. Design Issues for the layers
  3. Connection-oriented and Connectionless
  4. Service primitives
  5. Relationship of Services to protocol
  • Protocol Hierarchies: Networks are organized as a stack of layers to reduce their design complexity. And the functionality of each layer is different from other layers because different protocols are used in different layers for providing successful communication.

    • Network Software works according to layers and provides services to users but it keeps the internal state details and programming hidden from users.
    • TCP/IP model and OSI reference model are examples of protocol hierarchies.

  • Design Issues for the layers: When one layer is exchanging its information with another layer there may be chance of error such as change of original message, broken link, or low data rate, etc. to occur. Therefore, most of the design issues are known and resolved by this technology. Let’s look at some design issues.

    • Error detection: Between transmission of the message there may be a chance that the message will get corrupted. Therefore, to detect errors in the received information, an error detection technique is used.
    • Error correction: Error detection techniques only detect errors, but Error correction techniques are used to correct corrupted information.
    • Routing: There are several paths available between the sender and the receiver. Suppose User-A wants to send a message to User-B. And there are multiple paths available between User-A and User-B. If User-A sends his message through one path which is broken, then User-A can send the same message through another path. This is called routing.
    • Addressing: This technique is used to uniquely identify devices on the network.
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  • Connection-oriented and Connectionless services: Layers of network software use connection-oriented and connectionless services for communication.

    • Connection-oriented: In a connection-oriented service, the connection between the communication devices is established before the communication takes place. A phone call is an example of a connection-oriented service.
      • For example, if you call your friend, you dial his number first, then your friend’s mobile rings, and when your friend picks up the phone, connection is established between the two of you which is connection-oriented.
    • Connectionless: Connectionless service does not require a pre-established connection between communication devices. So, one can say that it ensures unreliable transfer.
      • Assigning an IP address via DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) to a device on a network is an example of a connectionless service.

  • Service primitives: Service comprises a set of primitives and here primitive means operation. The primitives or operations are available to the user’s processes to access the service. These primitives generally tell the service to perform some action on the action taken by the user entity.

    • Here the purpose of the service is to define the special operations which are to be performed at a particular layer.

  • Relationship of Services to Protocols: As we have seen in Service Primitives, the service defines the operations for the layers, but it says nothing about how these operations are performed to the layers. Whereas a protocol is a set of rules, so the entities use the protocol to implement the service definitions.

How does Network Hardware & Network Software Work in a Network?

We have seen that protocols and operating systems are types of network software and all types of physical devices are network hardware. So let’s understand how they work together in a network.

The below diagram explains the working of Network hardware and Network Software in a network.

working of Network hardware and Network Software
  • First, we will use a router to connect the newly created network to the Internet. As you can see in the above diagram that the router is connected to the bridge through the firewall. After connecting the router to the Internet, your network goes live.

For example, consider a scenario which I have mentioned below.

  • Let’s say PC-1 needs some services from the server. So, PC-1 will first prepare the request and send it over the communication link. As that request reaches the communication link, it passes through different layers, and different protocols are used for successful communication. After that, it reaches the server passing through the bridge and switch.
  • As soon as the server receives the request, it sends services to PC-1 as a response using the operating system running inside it. Now, PC-1 can access the services of a server over a network. It is also known as a client-server mechanism.

Difference between Network Hardware and Network Software

The table below explains the main differences between Network Hardware and Network Software.

Key Network Hardware Network Software
Definition Network Hardware combines to perform require operations of computer networks and become responsible for data communication. Network Software helps to manage a network and prevents unauthorized access and various cyber-attacks, as by using network software one can restrict access to the network.
Techniques Network hardware has two dimensions from which one can understand network performance.

  1. Transmission Technology
  2. Scale
There are 5 types of software structuring techniques in network software by which one can understand the structure and issues of the network.

  1. Protocol Hierarchies
  2. Design Issues for the layers
  3. Connection-oriented and Connectionless
  4. Service primitives
  5. Relationship of Services to protocol
Feature Network Hardware transmits data from one device to another device. Network Software performs functions on data that are required for successful communication.
Connection Network hardware connects via wired or wireless media. Network software is embedded in the network hardware like PC, Router, Switch, etc.
Functionality Network hardware such as routers helps to connect the newly created LAN to the Internet. Network software such as an operating system helps a computer to act as a server.
Examples Server, Client, Router, Switch, Bridge, Firewall, NIC, Cable, Modem, Repeater, and Gateway. Operating System and Protocol suite.

Functionalities of Network Hardware

We have already seen that Server, Client, Router, Switch, Bridge, Firewall, NIC, Cable, Modem, Repeater, and Gateway are Network Hardware. So, let’s see their functionalities also.

  • Server: It is a device that provides services to clients.
  • Client: It is an end device that requests services from servers available on the network.
  • Router: It helps in forwarding the packets over the network by using the store and forward mechanism.
  • Switch: Switch helps to connect devices on a network. It uses the packet switching method to receive, process, and transfer data to the receiver.
  • Bridge: Bridge helps to connect more than one network.
  • Firewall: The purpose of a firewall is to filter out bad packets.
  • NIC: It helps to physically connect the devices to the network.
  • Cable: It is a medium that helps to connect devices for communication purposes.
  • Modem: It simply modulates the signal to encode, and demodulate the signal to decode.
  • Repeater: As the name suggests, the repeater receives a signal and retransmits it, so that the signal can be transmitted over long distances.
  • Gateway: It is an interface that provides compatibility between networks. It converts protocols, security services, or transfer speeds.

Functionalities of Network Software

Below is the list of Functionalities of Network Software.

  • Network Software allows a network administrator to set up and install OS.
  • A network administrator can maintain and improve the network using network software.
  • Provides protocols to data upon which communication devices agree and establish successful communication.
  • Network administration can install a network operating system on a computer and make it a server for the network.
  • Network Software provides reliability to the users on a network.
  • The network administrator can remove unauthorized users from a network.

Key Points to Remember

Here is the list of key points we need to remember about “Network Hardware & Network Software”.

  • Network Hardware combines to perform require operations of computer networks and become responsible for data communication.
  • Network Software enables a network administrator to deploy or manage a network, restrict access to a network.
  • Examples of network hardware are routers, switches, firewalls, NICs, bridges, cables, modems, etc. Operating systems and protocol suites are examples of network software.
  • There are mainly two dimensions of network hardware that helps to describe the scope of the network. They are Transmission Technology and Scale.
  • To understand network software structure better, 5 main software structuring techniques are used:
    1. Protocol Hierarchies
    2. Design Issues for the layers
    3. Connection-oriented and Connectionless
    4. Service primitives
    5. Relationship of Services to protocol
  • Network hardware allows newly created computer networks to connect to the Internet.
  • Network Software provides reliability on a network to the users.

If you find any mistake above, kindly email to [email protected]

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Manish Bhojasia - Founder & CTO at Sanfoundry
Manish Bhojasia, a technology veteran with 20+ years @ Cisco & Wipro, is Founder and CTO at Sanfoundry. He lives in Bangalore, and focuses on development of Linux Kernel, SAN Technologies, Advanced C, Data Structures & Alogrithms. Stay connected with him at LinkedIn.

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