A lot of students (and others) ask questions on this site regarding the meaning of many networking terms. Some ask for simple definitions, while others want to know if a term applies in a particular instance.
Some examples of these types of questions are:

  • What are the differences between network slicing and VLANs?
  • What's the meaning of “3D Universal Edge Routers”?
  • What is Outside NAT?
  • What is a standard term that includes patch panels but is broader?
  • What is a Logically Centralized Controller in SDN?
  • How does NAT Stitching work?
  • Are “ad-hoc” networks always wireless?

The underlying question is usually, “What is the ‘official’ definition of the term, so I can know what it really means, especially in this particular instance?

  • 2
    Most of the time there is no "official" definition (IEEE? IETF?). For the (more or less) universally accepted just search on NESE: ;-)
    – Zac67
    Dec 14 '18 at 22:09
  • @ylearn My only complaint about moving this question here is that the users who would be most helped by it will never see it.
    – Ron Trunk
    Dec 15 '18 at 15:58
  • @RonTrunk, which is no different than the question checklist and a number of other posts on meta. Comments can link to it where appropriate. While I don't entirely disagree with your comment, it is the way that the SE communities are structured.
    – YLearn
    Dec 15 '18 at 17:40
  • A great many of these read like homework questions...
    – rnxrx
    Dec 31 '18 at 3:11

Networking (and IT in general) is a rapidly developing technology, with new devices, concepts and features being developed practically every day. It’s easy to get confused by various terms, especially if you are new to the field or even new to a specific technology. When a new feature or technology is developed, the people who developed it naturally want to name it.

  • They might pick a name that was used in some other, physical context, like: Firewall, Secret Key, Handshake
  • They might pick a name that distinguishes itself from an existing technology, like: Virtual LAN (VLAN), Layer 3 Switch
  • They might pick a term that conveys some concept of the technology, like: Cloud Computing or Borderless Networking
  • And finally, they might pick a term to be clever or as sort of a joke: Bogon, Big-Endian/Little Endian

A few terms get defined in generally accepted standards documents, such as Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF) Request For Comments (RFC), or the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineering (IEEE). But many are invented by companies in order to better sell their products. They become “marketing terms,” whose definition can mean different things at different times. If the company is big enough, the term becomes accepted (I won't mention any particular one, but it rhymes with Cisco). Other companies, eager to capitalize on a new market, will use the same term in order to sell their products (e.g. “cloud-enabled”) even if they mean something different.

Eventually, there is general agreement on what terms mean. But when new terms are created, they can mean whatever the user wants it to mean. The term “cloud computing” is a good example. Everyone uses it, but there is no precise definition for it. The U.S. government tried to define it for their purposes, but also admitted “cloud computing can and does mean different things to different people.” But with new terms being coined all the time, there are a lot of terms whose definition will remain “squishy” for some time. There is no definition police who make sure terms are used in the right way.

The bottom line is that many common terms we use in networking don’t have a precise meaning. When asking a question, it’s helpful to mention the context, that is, where the term was used so we can provide you with a helpful answer.

  • 1
    "Cloud computing" is a very good example for the impossibility for a hard definition: it's a perspective term where the user doesn't know (and doesn't need to) what exactly is going on "out there". The service is generally "elsewhere". How does anyone think you could define that technically?
    – Zac67
    Dec 15 '18 at 9:28
  • @Zac67: To my mind, "cloud computing" just means "somebody else's computers." Or, if you work for Amazon, Google, or Microsoft, it means "our computers, but running somebody else's software." But maybe I'm oversimplifying a bit.
    – Kevin
    Dec 22 '18 at 6:43
  • @kevin Not quite - a rented server or a shared web server aren't usually considered cloud computing.
    – Zac67
    Dec 22 '18 at 8:23

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