The path that a message takes from source to destination can be as simple as a single cable connecting one computer to another or as complex as a network that literally spans the globe. This network infrastructure is the platform that supports the network. It provides the stable and reliable channel over which our communications can occur.

The network infrastructure contains three categories of network components:

Click each button in the figure to highlight the corresponding network components.

Devices and media are the physical elements, or hardware, of the network. Hardware is often the visible components of the network platform such as a laptop, PC, switch, router, wireless access point, or the cabling used to connect the devices. Occasionally, some components may not be so visible. In the case of wireless media, messages are transmitted through the air using invisible radio frequency or infrared waves.

Network components are used to provide services and processes. These are the communication programs, called software, that run on the networked devices. A network service provides information in response to a request. Services include many of the common network applications people use every day, like email hosting services and web hosting services. Processes provide the functionality that directs and moves the messages through the network. Processes are less obvious to us but are critical to the operation of networks.