The idea of networking is probably as old as telecommunications itself. Consider people living in the Stone Age, when drums may have been used to transmit messages between individuals. Suppose caveman A wants to invite caveman B over for a game of hurling rocks at each other, but they live too far apart for B to hear A banging his drum. What are A's options? He could 1) walk over to B's place, 2) get a bigger drum, or 3) ask C, who lives halfway between them, to forward the message. The last option is called networking.
Of course, we have come a long way from the primitive pursuits and devices of our forebears. Nowadays, we have computers talk to each other over vast assemblages of wires, fiber optics, microwaves, and the like, to make an appointment for Saturday's soccer match. In the following description, we will deal with the means and ways by which this is accomplished, but leave out the wires, as well as the soccer part.
We will describe three types of networks in this guide. We will focus on TCP/IP most heavily because it is the most popular protocol suite in use on both Local Area Networks (LANs) and Wide Area Networks (WANs), such as the Internet. We will also take a look at UUCP and IPX. UUCP was once commonly used to transport news and mail messages over dialup telephone connections. It is less common today, but is still useful in a variety of situations. The IPX protocol is used most commonly in the Novell NetWare environment and we'll describe how to use it to connect your Linux machine into a Novell network. Each of these protocols are networking protocols and are used to carry data between host computers. We'll discuss how they are used and introduce you to their underlying principles.
We define a network as a collection of hosts that are able to communicate with each other, often by relying on the services of a number of dedicated hosts that relay data between the participants. Hosts are often computers, but need not be; one can also think of X terminals or intelligent printers as hosts. Small agglomerations of hosts are also called sites.
Communication is impossible without some sort of language or code. In computer networks, these languages are collectively referred to as protocols. However, you shouldn't think of written protocols here, but rather of the highly formalized code of behavior observed when heads of state meet, for instance. In a very similar fashion, the protocols used in computer networks are nothing but very strict rules for the exchange of messages between two or more hosts.
The original spirit of which (see above) still shows on some occasions in Europe.