Illustration by Dan Matutina

Visualizing network topologies

Recently I wanted to come up with visual analogies for different network topologies. WiFi infrastructure networks act a lot like the post office. When a device has a message they put on an address and send it to the post office to deliver. Messages can move in between any of the addresses on the network but it requires the post office or router to deliver them. If the router goes down the devices are not able to communicate.

With a direct connection like a typical Bluetooth connection you have a single channel of communication. I think of this like a walkie-talkie. Bluetooth is a little more complicated because a host device can have several slave devices connected but basically each connection is direct between the two devices.

The mesh network uses addresses but each node can pass the data along. Since I couldn’t come up with an image, I asked the hive mind. And the first suggestion was flowers being pollinated by bees. This sort of works but it’s hard. The pollen could move from one flower to another to another but the bees also make multiple stops. It makes a good picture but doesn’t quite cut it as an analogy.

But there are no teams and the data wants to flow to the nearest node. So then someone mentioned the dog bark network from 101 Dalmations. And this definitely looks good on paper but it’s not quite right since the messages are not actually addressed although I suppose they could be. 101 Dalmations

Passing notes in class. Admittedly, today’s kids might not find this a compelling analogy as they now just text their friends but most of you reading this will remember days spent in middle school hiding your notes from the teacher. Your note flows to your friend whose name is on it but it could go through many other hands on the way. Here we see that Andy’s note to Jose passes through Frances and Henry. Barb’s note to May goes through Elsa, Carlos’ note to Oscar through Frances, May’s note to Violet through Oscar and Pete, Pete’s note to Jose is direct, and Oscar’s note to Carlos flows through Henry. Even if someone is absent from school the notes can still make the rounds and the paths can dynamically update. So now I’ve found an analogy for mesh networks that works for now. Devices have addresses and each device can pass along information to other nodes classroom