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How To Diagram Home Networks

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/14/2009

Diagramming your home network may seem like a puzzling task, but with a few simple steps, it can be made quick and efficient - and even help make your network more efficient. Here's how.

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    Home network connections can be logistical nightmares to manage, between laptops, wireless routers, entertainment centers, printers—everything seems to need to be connection to everything else. Diagramming your home network—and somehow using it to make this whole jumble of devices more organized—may thus seem like a daunting task, but if you take it step by step it doesn't have to be. Here's a guide on how to diagram home networks, and how you can use it to improve network connectivity.

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    Diagram Medium

    Before we begin, consider the medium upon which you will be diagraming your home network.

    There's nothing wrong with pen and paper, of course, but if you're software savvy enough, it might be better to do all this on the computer. This has a number advantages, not just for Mother Earth, but also with regards to convenience. Given the speed at which new technology is adapted into our lives—and old ones made obsolete—you'll like be changing this diagram a lot, and it's easier to edit it on a computer. Sharing it with other people is either just an email or a quick printjob away. Even just finding this diagram again in the bustle of a household might prove difficult, as opposed to it being just a quick search on the computer away.

    There are a few options for this. You can do it from scratch with some sort of image editing software, such as Photoshop or GIMP, which requires only the most basic of image editing skills. Many office suites offer the ability to create crude flowcharts, including popular ones such as Word or Open Office.This is simple and accessible, and probably a good option. Even for more complex home networks, this can be used in tangent with image editing software to good effect. Software specifically intended for diagramming home networks, on the other hand, is more intended for large business networks, and frankly, isn't worth the hassle for a mere home network. Most software for drawing home networks are extremely expensive for what they do – such as Edraw Soft – and tend to be rather buggy.

    In the end, creating a rough draft by hand and then a clean electronic version is probably the best option, though of course, it's entirely up to what you're comfortable with.

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    What Do You Have?

    Your first step is to make a coherent list of every piece of technology you own that requires some sort of network connection, be it just from one device to another or to the internet in general. You may be surprised—while you might not have known it at the time, that new TV you just bought might just need a network connection to access some of those cool features.

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    Where Are They?

    Your next task is to draw your devices in relative position to each other. Don't worry, you don't need any fancy technical drawing skills for this – just drawing general proximities. If you want to get a little more complicated, you can draw which devices are in which room and against which wall, but that will only really come in handy if you want get into the nitty gritty of the best placement of, say, your wireless router. Your home network diagram can be as abstract or as concrete as you want it - though the more sticks to reality, the more useful it will probably be for planning purposes.

    Of course, many devices are mobile and are used throughout the house, be they laptops or Bluetooth enabled cellphones, so placing them may seema little difficult. Tentatively place them where they are most commonly used, for instance a laptop on the dining room table or on the living room coffee table. If there are multiple such favorite places, dotted outlines are an easy way to represents them.

    Don't forget to show where LAN and other ports are, either, even if you're not using them. If you aren't intimately familiar with the walls of your home, get to know them: previously unknown broadband ports can be a happy, unexpected boon.

    If you're dealing with a house with multiple stories, then using multiple pages for your diagram is probably a good idea for the sake of coherency.

    If the diagram looks like it's going to be really complicated, a little color coding can go a long way—nothing fancy, just make sure to make a well-labeled key on the corner of your paper for each device.

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    How Do They Connect?

    Once you've made a thorough inventory of all your devices, figure out their specific needs. Can they work off of a wireless router, or do they require a wired connection? Do they need to be hooked up to the internet, or just to a specific device? This might require a little deep diving into the user manuals if you aren't entirely familiar with all of your equipment or haven't gotten everything hooked up.

    Now draw in their specific network connections. Lines of some sort for wired connections, and some sort of ray design for wireless networks. Different colors are a good idea, especially if you have multiple wireless routers in your household.

    If you have room on your page, label everything. If you don't, make sure you use different colors that are coherently keyed on the side of your diagram. Without this, your diagram will be difficult to read, entirely defeating the point of a diagram in the first place.

    If your household depends on multiple wireless routers, then it might be best to introduce a little trick: the gradient. Figure out where the wireless signal from a certain router is strong and where it is weak, then shade in the areas with better connectivity areas darker than where the network connectivity is weak.

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    Using Your Home Network Diagram

    Now that you have this spiffy diagram all drawn up, it's time to give it a good look and see what in your home network can be made all the more efficient.

    The position of your wireless router is probably the thing that stands to have the most improvement. Does it provide connectivity to the places where you really need it? Are there unnecessary or otherwise inconvenient ethernet cords laying around? Purchasing a new wireless router, provided you have a convenient port, might make your system that much more convenient.

    Greater awareness of your gadgets might have led to some fun discoveries, like being able to wirelessly enable your printer where previously a cable was necessary, or download your photos onto your computer using Bluetooth.

    Any improvements you make, of course, will have to be reflected on an updated version of your home network diagram—but you already know how to do that now, don't you?