Thanks to Cisco for their support in creating this article!
If you have read other HowStuffWorks articles on networking or the Internet, then you know that a typical network consists of nodes (computers), a connecting medium (wired or wireless) and specialized network equipment like routers or hubs. In the case of the Internet, all of these pieces work together to allow your computer to send information to another computer that could be on the other side of the world!

Switches are a fundamental part of most networks. They make it possible for several users to send information over a network at the same time without slowing each other down. Just like routers allow different networks to communicate with each other, switches allow different nodes (a network connection point, typically a computer) of a network to communicate directly with one another in a smooth and efficient manner.


Image courtesy Cisco Systems, Inc.
Illustration of a Cisco Catalyst switch

There are a lot of different types of switches and networks. Switches that provide a separate connection for each node in a company's internal network are called LAN switches. Essentially, a LAN switch creates a series of instant networks that contain only the two devices communicating with each other at that particular moment. In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we will focus on Ethernet networks that use LAN switches. You will learn what a LAN switch is and how transparent bridging works, as well as about VLANs, trunking and spanning trees.