A network topology is the pattern of links connecting pairs of nodes of a network. It's the shape of a LAN or other communications system. A given node has one or more links to others, and the links can appear in a variety of different shapes. The simplest connection is a one-way link between two devices. A second return link can be added for two-way communication. Modern communications cables usually include more than one wire in order to facilitate this, although very simple bus-based networks have two-way communication on a single wire.
Network topology is determined only by the configuration of connections between nodes; it is therefore a part of graph theory. Distances between nodes, physical interconnections, transmission rates, and/or signal types are not a matter of network topology, although they may be affected by it in an actual physical network.
The star topology reduces the chance of network failure by connecting all of the systems to a central node. When applied to a bus-based network, this central hub rebroadcasts all transmissions received from any peripheral node to all peripheral nodes on the network, sometimes including the originating node. All peripheral nodes may thus communicate with all others by transmitting to, and receiving from, the central node only. The failure of a transmission line linking any peripheral node to the central node will result in the isolation of that peripheral node from all others, but the rest of the systems will be unaffected.
If the central node is passive, the originating node must be able to tolerate the reception of an echo of its own transmission, delayed by the two-way transmission time (i.e. to and from the central node) plus any delay generated in the central node. An active star network has an active central node that usually has the means to prevent echo-related problems.
A tree topology (a.k.a. hierarchical topology) can be viewed as a collection of star networks arranged in a hierarchy. This tree has individual peripheral nodes (i.e. leaves) which are required to transmit to and receive from one other node only and are not required to act as repeaters or regenerators. Unlike the star network, the function of the central node may be distributed.
As in the conventional star network, individual nodes may thus still be isolated from the network by a single-point failure of a transmission path to the node. If a link connecting a leaf fails, that leaf is isolated; if a connection to a non-leaf node fails, an entire section of the network becomes isolated from the rest.
In a mesh topology, there are at least two nodes with two or more paths between them. A special kind of mesh, limiting the number of hops between two nodes, is a hypercube. The number of arbitrary forks in mesh networks makes them more difficult to design and implement, but their decentralized nature makes them very useful. This is similar in some ways to a grid network, where a linear or ring topology is used to connect systems in multiple directions. A multi-dimensional ring has a toroidal (torus) topology, for instance.
A fully connected, complete topology or full mesh topology is a network topology in which there is a direct link between all pairs of nodes. In a fully connected network with n nodes, there are n(n-1)/2 direct links. Networks designed with this topology are usually very expensive to set up, but have a high amount of reliability due to multiple paths data can travel on. This topology is mostly seen in military applications. However, it can also be seen in the file sharing protocol BitTorrent in which users connect to other users in the "swarm" by allowing each user sharing the file to other users also involved.
Hybrid networks use a combination of any two or more topologies in such a way that the resulting network does not have one of the standard forms. For example, a tree network connected to a tree network is still a tree network, but two star networks connected together (known as extended star) exhibit hybrid network topologies. A hybrid topology is always produced when two different basic network topologies are connected. Two common examples for Hybrid network are: star ring network and star bus network
• A Star ring network consists of two or more star topologies connected using a multistation access unit (MAU) as a centralized hub.
• A Star Bus network consists of two or more star topologies connected using a bus trunk (the bus trunk serves as the network's backbone).
While grid networks have found popularity in high-performance computing applications, some systems have used genetic algorithms to design custom networks that have the fewest possible hops in between different nodes. Some of the resulting layouts are nearly incomprehensible, although they do function quite well.