What is Ethernet?

Ethernet is a system used to connect computers and exchange data and other devices into a local area network (LAN). It’s built on a set of rules that dictate how data is sent, received, and organized, allowing for efficient and high-speed connectivity. It’s one of the most widely used methods for network connections, developed by Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center in 1973. Ethernet allows computers and other devices (like printers or servers) to communicate with each other by exchanging data. This is done through a wired connection using cables (usually twisted pair or fiber optic) or through wireless signals in the case of Wi-Fi, which is a type of Ethernet. The word “Ethernet” itself refers to both the method of connection (the protocol) and the physical hardware (like cables and switches). Ethernet is based on a set of rules that determine how devices on the network communicate. These rules are defined in a number of standards called ‘IEEE 802.3’ produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Two layers of Ethernet

Ethernet operates on two layers of the Open Systems Interconnection model. The physical layer, which is about the actual physical connection (the wires, the radio signals, etc.), and the data link layer, which is about how data is formatted and organized to be sent and received across that physical layer. Ethernet’s main feature is that it allows multiple devices to connect and share resources within a single local network, whether in a home, an office, or a larger business setting. Anywhere there is a need for reliable, high-speed communication between computing devices, you’re likely to find Ethernet in use. For example, in educational institutions, Ethernet is used to connect computer labs, libraries, classrooms, and offices, allowing students and staff to access shared resources and the Internet. And in retail, point-of-sale (POS) systems in stores often use Ethernet to connect cash registers, barcode scanners, and credit card readers. It’s designed to handle a lot of traffic and modern Ethernet can support speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second, making it suitable for tasks that demand a lot of speed, like streaming video or handling large volumes of data making it useful in data centers and telecommunication.

Packet Switching

Ethernet uses a technique called ‘packet switching’ to transmit data. In packet switching, the data is broken down into smaller pieces, or ‘packets’, before it’s sent over the network. Each packet contains the destination address, and when it arrives, it’s reassembled into the original data. To manage the traffic and prevent data collisions that can occur, Ethernet uses a method called Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD). This is a protocol that allows devices to check the network’s availability before they send data. If the network is busy, the device waits and tries again.

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