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  • Definition: Acronym for local area network. A computer network that uses cables or radio signals to link two or more computers within a geographically limited area (generally one building or a group of buildings). The linked computers are called workstations. LANs are differentiated by their architecture (peer-to-peer or client/server), topology (bus, hierarchical, multipoint, point-topoint, ring, or star), protocols (standards for transferring data among the linked workstations), and media (for instance, coaxial, twisted-pair, and fiber optic). Peer-to-peer LANs are simple to implement using the built-in networking capabilities of computers running Microsoft Windows or Mac OS; such networks enable the linked computers to share expensive peripherals such as laser printers; client/server networks use a LAN server to make centralized resources (such as databases and applications) available to workstation users. Network protocols operate at differing layers; for example, Ethernet is a lower-layer protocol that defines the basic mechanisms by which data enters the network and travels to its destination; Ethernets can work with a variety of higher-level protocols, including AppleTalk, Common Internet File System (CIFS), and TCP/IP.

    Source: Pfaffenberger, Bryan. Webster's new world computer dictionary. London: Wiley, 2003

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