What Is a LAN Connector?

By Keith Evans

Local Area Networks (LANs) are the small networks to which many business and home-computer user initially connect. These networks enable such functions as file, drive, and printer sharing while also directing traffic to and from the Internet. Depending on the age and type of computer, network users may be connecting with one of several different types of LAN connectors, and may be subject to some interesting considerations.

Function

Regardless of the type of connector, LAN connectors serve the same general purpose: transferring data between the individual computer and the network to which it is connected. By passing data through the LAN connector, the computer is able to exchange information and share resources with other nearby computers, as well as access information on machines located around the world (assuming the LAN has a gateway to the Internet). The protocol used by the LAN connector depends entirely on the type of network to which the computer is connected--though most modern LAN connectors divide data into small segments known as "packets," assign an Internet Protocol (IP) address corresponding to the packet's destination, and send the packet out over the connected network cable.

Types

As mentioned above, most modern computers rely on Ethernet LAN connectors to send and receive data using Internet Protocol (IP). The Ethernet cable connected to these connectors may fall into one of several categories; the most prominent is currently Category Five (Cat 5), though Category Five-E (Cat 5e) and Category Six (Cat 6) are gaining popularity. Regardless of category, these cables generally connect to LAN connectors using an RJ-45 modular plug. Some older computers may also communicate over Token Ring or 10-Base T LAN connectors, using either RJ-45 modular cabling or coaxial cable similar to that used in cable-television setups.

Identification

Most modern computers with a built-in LAN connector sport a small, female, modular port into which a standard RJ-45 cable can be easily inserted. This port is similar to a modular telephone port (as one would find in a telephone wall jack), though it is considerably larger than the RJ-11 size of a telephone cable. The LAN connector will also sport eight small copper wires at the bottom of the plug--twice as many as are found in the telephone port that some machines also offer. Machines with older coaxial LAN connectors may have a small, round, female connector that may be surrounded by a threaded metal bezel.

Significance

LAN connectors--whether Ethernet, coaxial, wireless or otherwise--are the primary interface between modern computers, local network connections and (ultimately) the Internet. As computers remain the primary medium through which the Internet is accessed, as well as the primary vehicle for designing and operating Internet services, LAN connectors are arguably one of the most significant components of modern computing.

Benefits

Since a LAN connector is the primary interface between an individual computer and local area networks (and, ultimately, the Internet), many of the benefits users enjoy on the Internet are made possible by a properly functioning LAN connector. When connected to a network or the Internet, users can exchange files, movies, music and information with users both local and on any connected machine in the world.

Considerations

Despite the impressive benefits and overall significance of LAN connectors, network computing does carry inherent risks. When a user connects his computer to a network, he creates the possibility of electronic intrusion. Though properly installed and configured firewall software can greatly reduce this risk, any networked computer is subject to "hacking" attempts by malicious network users.