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LAN Protocols

This page introduces the various media-access methods, transmission methods, topologies, and devices used in a local area network (LAN); to include methods and devices used in Ethernet/IEEE 802.3, Token Ring/IEEE 802.5, and Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI).

A LAN is a high-speed, fault-tolerant data network that covers a relatively small geographic area.  It typically connects workstations, personal computers, printers, and other devices.  LANs offer computer users many advantages, including shared access to devices and applications, file exchange between connected users, and communication between users via electronic mail and other applications

Media-Access Methods

LAN protocols typically use one of two methods to access the physical network medium: carrier sense multiple access collision detect (CSMA/CD) and token passing.

In the CSMA/CD media-access scheme, network devices contend for use of the physical network medium. CSMA/CD is therefore sometimes called contention access. Examples of LANs that use the CSMA/CD media-access scheme are Ethernet/IEEE 802.3 networks, including 100BaseT.

In the token-passing media-access scheme, network devices access the physical medium based on possession of a token. Examples of LANs that use the token-passing media-access scheme are Token Ring/IEEE 802.5 and FDDI.

LAN Transmission Methods

LAN data transmissions fall into three classifications: unicast, multicast, and broadcast. In each type of transmission, a single packet is sent to one or more nodes.

  1. In a unicast transmission, a single packet is sent from the source to a destination on a network.
  2. A multicast transmission consists of a single data packet that is copied and sent to a specific subset of nodes on the network.
  3. A broadcast transmission consists of a single data packet that is copied and sent to all nodes on the network.
LAN Topologies

LAN topologies define the manner in which network devices are organized.  Four common LAN topologies exist: bus, ring, star, and tree.  These topologies are logical architectures, but the actual devices need not be physically organized in these configurations.  Logical bus and ring topologies, for example, are commonly organized physically as a star.

  • A bus topology is a linear LAN architecture in which transmissions from network stations propagate the length of the medium and are received by all other stations.
  • A ring topology is a LAN architecture that consists of a series of devices connected to one another by unidirectional transmission links to form a single closed loop. Both Token Ring/IEEE 802.5 and FDDI networks implement a ring topology.
  • A tree topology is a LAN architecture that is identical to the bus topology, except that branches with multiple nodes are possible in this case.
  • A star topology is a LAN architecture in which the endpoints on a network are connected to a common central hub, or switch, by dedicated links. Logical bus and ring topologies are often implemented physically in a star topology.
LAN Devices

Devices commonly used in LANs include repeaters, hubs, LAN extenders, bridges, LAN switches, and routers.

  • A repeater is a physical layer device used to interconnect the media segments of an extended network. A repeater essentially enables a series of cable segments to be treated as a single cable. Repeaters receive signals from one network segment and amplify, retime, and retransmit those signals to another network segment. These actions prevent signal deterioration caused by long cable lengths and large numbers of connected devices. Repeaters are incapable of performing complex filtering and other traffic processing. In addition, all electrical signals, including electrical disturbances and other errors, are repeated and amplified. The total number of repeaters and network segments that can be connected is limited due to timing and other issues.
  • A hub is a physical-layer device that connects multiple user stations, each via a dedicated cable. Electrical interconnections are established inside the hub. Hubs are used to create a physical star network while maintaining the logical bus or ring configuration of the LAN. In some respects, a hub functions as a multiport repeater.
  • A LAN extender is a remote-access multilayer switch that connects to a host router. LAN extenders forward traffic from all the standard network-layer protocols (such as IP, IPX, and AppleTalk), and filter traffic based on the MAC address or network-layer protocol type. LAN extenders scale well because the host router filters out unwanted broadcasts and multicasts. LAN extenders, however, are not capable of segmenting traffic or creating security firewalls.
  • Bridges analyze incoming frames, make forwarding decisions based on information contained in the frames, and forward the frames toward the destination. In some cases, such as source-route bridging, the entire path to the destination is contained in each frame. In other cases, such as transparent bridging, frames are forwarded one hop at a time toward the destination.
  • Switches are data link layer devices that, like bridges, enable multiple physical LAN segments to be interconnected into a single larger network. Similar to bridges, switches forward and flood traffic based on MAC addresses. Because switching is performed in hardware instead of in software, however, it is significantly faster. Switches use either store-and-forward switching or cut-through switching when forwarding traffic. Many types of switches exist, including ATM switches, LAN switches, and various types of WAN switches.
  • Routers perform two basic activities: determining optimal routing paths and transporting information groups (typically called packets) through an internetwork. In the context of the routing process, the latter of these is referred to as switching. Although switching is relatively straightforward, path determination can be very complex.