Unix: Networking basics for the beginner

Need a jump start on Unix networking? Whether you're working on your home network or setting up systems at work, here are some Unix commands and insights that might prove helpful.

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The days before home networks

Once upon a time, there was something called a "standalone Computer" -- one that was used to perform some specific task and didn't require other devices or a network interface to do its job. It might have allowed its owner to write essays, play games, or manage family finances, but all data was stored and processed locally. And, if there was a printer involved, it was a "slave" printer -- one that hung off a port on the system and wasn't shared unless someone carried it to another computer.

My first home computer was a standalone and my neighbors at the time thought I was some kind of freak just for having computer in my home, never mind having it sitting on a desk in the corner of my dining room. At the time, this identified me as being clearly abnormal, though I'd bet today these same people all have home computers and can't imagine going through life without them.

Standalones may still exist today and their isolation may work to their advantage, but they are very rare.

These days, nearly all computers are hooked to networks and are able to connect to systems around the globe. Unix/Linux systems are no exception. This kind of connectivity changes relationships between families, friends, and people with shared interests dramatically. I hear from my sister far more often than the 2,920 miles between us would allow if facebook and gmail didn't provide a way for us to share the fairly trivial news from our day-to-day lives. And I recently met a 5th cousin once removed on linkedin. That's fairly incredible and something I'd never have had the patience or the tools to pull off 20 years ago.

The scene today

Instead of a standalone computer, today most people I know now have a home network. They have multiple computers connected to a private LAN, maybe a printer or two, and maybe even a large capacity network drive for backups. And some of those home networks include a mix of Windows and Linux systems.

So, what do you need to know if one or more of those computers is a Linux system? What do you need to know if you're going to be setting up network connections on Linux systems at work?

Setting up your network connection

Whether at home or at work, if you're configuring a system to act as a Linux server, you will need to assign it what is called a "static" address. Static means it doesn't change. Server means that other systems need to find and connect to it. A static address is necessary so that clients, when they need to initiate connections, have a known address to use for these connections. For non-servers or "client" systems, addresses can be assigned dynamically and generally are -- whether they are assigned an address by a local router (as I have in my home) or by a DHCP server that manages this role within an organization.

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flickr / jonjohnson

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