Introduction to Home Networks

A typical home network consists of a few devices where some devices have a more central role than others. Almost all home networks have a router as their central device. It is the router that connects to the Internet connection and then shares that connection to one or more computers on the local network.

A home router typically has got an “outside” and an “inside”

  • The outside is the Internet connection, which connects to a port on the router which is often called the WAN port
  • The inside is the local network or LAN. A router often has multiple ports that belong to the inside where you can connect different home computers, printers and other devices

Many routers also have a built-in Wireless network. The Wireless network also belongs to the inside LAN of the router.

WAN means Wide Area Network, or a network connection that stretches out over a wider geographical area, such as an internet connection between a home and the Internet Service Provider (ISP)
LAN stands for Local Area Network, a network with limited coverage area, such as a network within a home or a single company, often with a single owner for the whole LAN network

A closer look at the Home Router

Most people simply call their Home Router a router for short, but the term “router” is technically a bit misleading. A Home Router actually consists of many different components which have been combined into a single box, and a router is just one of those components.

Today most Home Routers that are sold have built-in Wi-Fi access points, and manufacturers often refer to these products as Wi-Fi Routers.

Homenet Howto will discuss the various components in a typical Home Router and what those components do throughout the guide, spread out over multiple sections. But the sooner you learn about what a “Home Router” actually is and how it works the better.

These are the main components of a Home Router:

  • An integrated Switch with a number of LAN ports where you can connect computers and other devices using network cables
  • An Access Point with one or more antennas to which wireless devices can connect
  • Often there is a built-in modem, at least if the Home Router is meant to be connected to Cable or DSL-based Internet connections. The WAN port of the router is then connected to the integrated modem.
  • The actual Router function which forwards traffic between the inside and outside networks mentioned previously. The Router normally also handles a number of other features:
    • Handing out IP addresses to devices on your home network
    • Handles Address Translations and Port Forwards
    • Takes care of any firewall rules
    • Replies to DNS-queries
    • Includes a Web interface that you can connect to via your web browser to configure the Home Router

Many of the features above can either be run in the actual integrated Router component, or they can run as separate services in a mini server in the Home Router.

Home Router with integrated Switch, Access Point, Router, Modem

Traffic only has to be handled by the internal Router if the traffic is either going to the Internet or if the computers are requesting data from one of the Services that are running on the Home Router.

Each of the internal components will be discussed in more details later on in the guide.

Which Home Router should I get?

This is one of the most common questions we receive even though we don’t really provide any technical support. But here are a couple of options that provide really good built-in WiFi. These routers are the ones that show up either as test winners, best value or runner-ups (sponsored links – click for explanation)

These routers are what we would choose from if the main goal is to have a single Home Router with good quality built in WiFi. However if you have a big home and you are worrying that a single router might not be enough then have a look at our chapters on Wireless first and see our recommendations there!

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Basics

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Routing, introduction to IP addresses