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The Different Types of Network Topologies

My biggest pet peeve is a bad Internet connection, and I’m sure many of you can relate. Having no Internet is one thing, but a website taking 5 minutes to load is another.

Now, assuming your bad connection is due to mode/router placement and not a bad ISP plan, there are multiple network topologies you can use for your connection, whether you’re at work or home.

Take note that network topologies are separated into two categories: physical and logical. Physical topologies describe the physical layout while logical topologies describe how the data travels. So, for example, a star topology can use a physical star topology but then use a logical bus topology, but we’ll get to those in a second.

P.S. All these topologies assume you’re using an Ethernet connection; Wireless connections use separate topologies, so your router or gateway will not be included in this article. Also, a topology does not affect the capabilities of your network, only the process in which data is transferred. Your VPN will still work for Netflix whether it’s on a star topology or bus topology.

A Bus Topology

A bus topology is simple and effective, with there being one Ethernet cable that connects to every device on the network. If you’re running an Ethernet cable from your PC to your router, you’re using a bus topology, the most popular topology in use today.

However, while a bus topology is a great way to set up a connection, it has one major downside: Chance of data loss. Since this topology only uses one cable, any sort of data collision will cause the connection to go under–with it, the data that was being transferred.

A Ring Topology

A ring topology is similar to a bus topology, but instead of data simply travelling straight through one data cable, it passes through every workstation on the network, hence a “ring”.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of a ring topology is the use of a “token”. The “token” determines which workstation is allowed to send data through the cable, so for example, Workstation A holds the token but Workstation B doesn’t. Because of this, Workstation A is the only workstation allowed to transmit data.

While this keeps the network safe from data collisions, the token method makes it a slow topology and therefore not widely used.

A Star Topology

Close behind the bus topology as the most popular is the star topology. In a star topology, the devices are connected to one central device, such as a hub or switch.

This topology is fast, simple and easy to configure. Plus, you’ll easily know what’s wrong when every device loses connection to the Internet. However, that’s also this topology’s biggest weakness; if the central device goes down, all the devices will lose connection, similar to how a bus topology will lose connection if the cable is damaged.

Star topologies are especially popular today with wireless networks being the main form of Internet at home.

A Mesh Topology

A mesh topology is what I like to call the “failsafe” topology, as it’s designed to keep the network up even if one or more devices go down.

In a mesh topology, each computer in the network is connected to each other, creating a “mesh”. This way, if one computer goes down, the other computers will still have access to the network, just not to that specific computer.

While a mesh topology is useful for businesses–where you don’t want data to be lost–it’s an expensive and difficult topology to set up. There’s not many reasons you’d need a mesh topology at home, but again, businesses benefit the most from the mesh topology.

Hybrid Topologies

Lastly, we have hybrid topologies. In a hybrid topology, two or more topologies are combined to create a unique topology, though this type of topology will be expensive and complex. Therefore, you don’t see hybrid topologies much in many environments.

However, this type of topology tends to be reliable and flexible in design, so corporations and governments may use hybrid technologies to create a secure, reliable network.

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