Definition of topology in The Network Encyclopedia.

What is Topology (in computer networking)?

Topology is the physical layout of computers, cables, switches, routers, and other components of a network. This term can also refer to the underlying network architecture, such as Ethernet or Token Ring. The word “topology” comes from topos, which is Greek for «place».

How It Works

When you design a network, your choice of topology will be determined by the size, architecture, cost, and management of the network. Basic network topologies include the following:

  • The stations are connected in a linear fashion. An example is the 10Base2 form of Ethernet.


  • The stations are connected to a single concentrating device called a hub (Ethernet) or a Multistation Access Unit, or MAU (Token Ring physical topology).


  • The stations are connected in a ring. Examples are Fiber Distributed Data Interface, or FDDI (logical and physical ring), and Token Ring (logical ring and physical star).


  • The stations are connected in a complex, redundant pattern. This topology is generally used only in wide area networks (WANs) in which different networks are connected using routers.


Variations of these basic topologies include the following:

  • Consists of many star networks whose concentrators (hubs) are connected in a linear bus fashion


  • Consists of star networks whose hubs are joined in star formation to other hubs, forming a kind of tree-shaped network with the main hub at the top



The term “topology” can refer to either a network’s physical topology, which is the actual physical layout or pattern of the cabling, or its logical topology, which is the path that signals actually take around the network. This difference is most evident in Token Ring networks, whose cabling is physically arranged in a star but whose signal flows in a ring from one component to the next. The term “topology” without any further description is usually assumed to mean the physical layout.