Technology terminology can becoming overwhelming. With complicated acronyms, proprietary names for generic technology and the sheer pace of innovation, keeping up can be tough. The language of networking is no exception. The array of terms can make even simple concepts seem complex. Understanding the difference between LAN and Ethernet is one of the first steps in separating out all the computer-speak.
A local-area network, or LAN, is a network that works over a small distance, typically within one building or campus. Ethernet is a type of networking protocol used on a LAN.
Originally, networks allowed computers to communicate with each other over short distances. LANs ran on protocols such as Arcnet and Token Ring. Ethernet was developed as a more-efficient protocol to use in a LAN.
Sending data across a wire to another computer over a LAN requires that the computer send electronic signals through a network interface onto a wire. The signals go down the wire until they arrive at their destination, where they must be received from the wire and translated by the receiving computer. For this to happen, both ends must understand the kinds of signals they are transmitting and the wire must be able to accommodate those signals. To ensure that this happens, specific standards, or protocols, such as Ethernet were developed.
LANs and WANs have long been the two main types of networking structure. However, there were once multiple types of networking protocols including Arcnet and Token-Ring. However, eventually, the ethernet protocol became the standard used on virtually all networks today. Even wireless networks use a version of ethernet.
Ethernet is an official engineering standard that provides a set of rules and procedures to ensure efficient transport of data on a network, while LAN is a generalized term coined to differentiate between networks that cover large distances, called WANs, and those that are smaller in size.