What's does that mean? Common networking terms explained.


Image via Pixabay

When it comes to computer networking, the language used can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. To make things easier, here's a quick list of common terms and what they mean. And by the way, these are high-level, general descriptions. We could write a novel on almost all of these! 


Your ISP is your Internet Service Provider. It's the company you send your money to every month to pay for the internet connection at your home or work. 


LAN stands for Local Area Network, which you have at your home or work. It's a "network" that's confined to a local area. 


WAN stands for Wide Area Network. Your ISP provides you with a connection to its WAN, which is then connected to the internet. 

IP address 

An IP address is a Internet Protocol address that corresponds to your computer on a network. When a computer wants to connect to another computer, it connects to that computer’s IP address.

IPv4 and IPv6

There are two types of IP address in common use. Older IPv4 (IP version 4) addresses are the most common, followed by newer IPv6 (IP version 6) addresses. 


A router is a device used to carry data back and forth. It’s that router’s job to pass outgoing traffic from your local devices to the Internet, and to pass incoming traffic from the Internet to your devices.


A gateway routes traffic between networks. This means your router at home is your gateway. It provides a “gateway” between your local area network (LAN) and your ISP's wide area network (WAN.) 


DCHP stands for  Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, which allows computers to automatically request and be assigned IP addresses and other network settings. Case in point, when you connect your laptop or smartphone to your Wi-Fi network, your device asks the router for an IP address using DHCP and the router assigns an IP address. 

Domain Name

Domain names are the base part of website names, like zyxel.com or amazon.com.


DNS stands for Domain Name System, and it's how computers convert human-readable domain names and hostnames to numerical IP addresses. When you type in any domain address into your web browser, your computer contacts its DNS server and the DNS server replies with the numerical IP address, which is what your computer connects to.


Ethernet is the standard wired network technology in use almost everywhere today. If your computer is connected to a network via a cable, it’s likely using an Ethernet cable. That cable plugs into an Ethernet port on your computer.

Network Interface / Network Adapter

Your computer’s wired Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi connection are basically both network interfaces. If your laptop was connected to both a wired connection and a Wi-Fi network, each network interface would have its own IP address. Each is a different connection.


The hostname “localhost” always corresponds to the device you’re using. This uses the loopback network interface — a network interface implemented in software — to connect directly to your own PC.

MAC Address

We know, this one is confusing. It has nothing to do with a Mac computer. A MAC address (Media Access Control) is a unique identifier designed to identify different computers on a network. MAC addresses are usually assigned when a manufacturer creates a network device. MAC addresses are commonly used by public Wi-Fi providers as a means to track how long you've been on the provided Wi-Fi (think of coffee shops and airports that have limits on how long you can stay connected.)


When an application wants to send or receive traffic, it has to use a numbered port between 1 to 65535. This is how you can have multiple applications on a computer using the network and each application knows which traffic is for it.

Protocol – TCP, UDP, ICMP, etc.

Protocols are different ways of communicating over the Internet. TCP and UDP are the most common protocols. The ICMP protocol is also used, but primarily so network devices can check each other’s status. Different protocols are ideal for different types of communication.


A packet is a unit of data sent between devices. When you load a web page, your computer sends packets to the server requesting the web page and the server responds with many different packets of its own, which your computer stitches together to form the web page. The packet is the basic unit of data that computers on a network exchange.


A firewall is a piece of software or hardware that blocks certain types of traffic. For example, a firewall could block incoming traffic on a certain port or block all incoming traffic except traffic coming from a specific IP address.


The hypertext transfer protocol is the standard protocol modern web browsers and the web itself uses. FTP is an example of alternative protocols.


A uniform resource locator, or URL, is also known as a web address. The current URL is displayed in your web browser’s address bar. For example, https://www.zyxel.com/us/en/products_services/home-wifi_system.shtml?t=c is an URL that tells your computer to use the hypertext transfer protocol HTTP to connect to the server at zyxel.com.com and ask for the file named article in the root directory. (The computer contacts its DNS server to find the IP address zyxel.com is associated with and connects using the TCP protocol on port 80.)

Hope that helps! And props to HowToGeek.com for help defining these terms in a simple, easy-to-understand way. 

Back to Blog