Network Topology Guide: Types, Mapping and Design

Networking has become a crucial part of most business organizations. Regardless of whether you’re a small business or a worldwide conglomerate-you’ll be taking advantage of networking. With that being said, networking isn’t quite as simple as it can often sound. The process of creating a network and setting up the devices within can be quite challenging. You’ll need to decide on the proper topology for your network so that you have an easier time managing it and finding trouble before it reaches your bottom line.

What Is Network Topology?

The network topology within a network is the physical and logical way that nodes, devices, and connections are placed relating to each other. There’s a variety of different ways to do this, and each network topology fulfills various needs.

To run a business in the 21st century, you’ll need a steady and fast internet connection. Generally, choosing what network topology you’ll be using comes down to your business’s scale, goals, and budget.

The Essential Types of Network Topology

There are various kinds of network topology, with each of them bringing its pros and cons to the table. As a result, no single design can be the best fit for all organizations. Because of this, you must find the right one for your business needs. Here we’ll be looking at the network topologies most often used by businesses, as well as their pros and cons.

1. Star Topology

The star topology is among the most common network topologies. Its name comes from the shape that it creates, which is reminiscent of a cartoon star. All nodes in the star topology have their connection to the central hub. This is usually made through either an optical fiber, coaxial, or twisted pair cable.

In the star topology, your central hub does a server’s job and passes off information between nodes. Therefore, all pieces of data have to travel through this central hub, which can help prevent data loss.

Another advantage of the star topology is that if an attacker were to attempt your network, even if they succeed at damaging a single node, they’ll be unable to affect your network. This is what makes this topology so popular for bank networks.

Finally, the star topology makes incorporating new devices extremely simple. All you need to do is update the central device, and you’re done- creating minimal stalls in network operations.

Main Draws of The Star Topology:

  • The star topology provides stability and security to networks that need it
  • Simple to configure
  • Easy wire management
  • Zero network disruption when devices are added, removed, or changed
  • Troubleshooting and finding errors is made simple
  • Minimal chances of failure or data loss
  • A single node failing won’t impact the whole network
  • A centralized system like this makes detecting malicious agents much easier

Main Drawbacks of The Star Topology:

  • It can be pretty expensive to install
  • You’ll need more hardware such as the hub or switch, which adds more costs
  • The performance of a network using the star topology hinges on the parameters of the central device
  • The central hub needs to be attentively monitored for any issues.

2. Bus Topology

The bus topology makes it so that the administrator connects every node and device with one half-duplex cable called a bus. The bus needs to have two end terminals. Once a device has broadcasted a message into the bus, other devices within the network can see it; however, only the recipient of the message can accept the message and process it. The bus topology is also referred to as the line or backbone topology. Any damage to the bus(or backbone) will cause a shutdown across the whole network.

This topology is ideal for smaller networks. This is because safety is not its priority, and all of it hinges on the correct operation of the bus.

Main Draws of The Bus Topology:

  • The bus topology has a straightforward layout, making it optima for smaller networks
  • Devices can easily connect and disconnect from the network without causing trouble
  • It’s very cheap to set up and install
  • It needs less cable length than practically all other topologies
  • You can add more nodes by simply joining another cable

Main Drawbacks of The Bus Topology:

  • One wire does all of the data transmission work, which makes the topology ripe for future problems
  • Issues with the bus/backbone can lead to your entire network shutting down and can be pretty hard to detect
  • You can’t perform data transmissions in both directions at once. Because of this, you shouldn’t use the bus topology if you require regular high-level transmissions.
  • It’s pretty laborious to restore the network once it has shut down.

3. Tree Topology

The tree topology utilizes a quite unique-looking structure where each device is set up like the branches of a tree. You can look at it as the combination of the star and bus topologies. It uses a parent-child hierarchy to ensure the central hub can pass on data to the other nodes and branches. There are multiple hub devices connected, and each of them has its connected nodes. This topology is mainly used by businesses looking to set up a vast area network.

An advantage of the tree topology is how easy it is to find errors within all of the nodes; however, the main disadvantage of the bus topology is also present here; if the hub fails, the whole network is likely to go down.

Main Draws of The Tree Topology:

  • Authentication and troubleshooting issues are simple
  • Every segment features its point-to-point wiring
  • The tree topology offers a lot of flexibility and scalability
  • The chances of data loss are pretty slim
  • It’s pretty easy to add multiple nodes

Main Drawbacks of The Tree Topology:

  • The central hub falling is likely to lead to the whole network shutting down
  • It can be quite costly to manage the cabling involved
  • It’s pretty difficult to perform network maintenance

4. Mesh Topology

As one of the most expensive topologies out there, Mesh topology does a lot to make it worth the cost. It is made up of a web-like structure composed of nodes connected. There are no specific data transmission routes within this topology. Instead, transmissions between the source and the destination occur on a non-hierarchical basis.

There are two kinds of mesh topology- complete and partial mesh. There are also two ways for data to be transmitted – flooding and routing. Routing works as nodes using their logic to get the data to go through the best route to reach its final destination. Flooding forgoes using logic and instead uses any medium inside of the network.

Main Draws of The Mesh Topology:

  • One of the most reliable and stable topologies
  • Extremely failure-resistant
  • The possibility of data collision is nil
  • High speed
  • One node failing doesn’t cause interruptions
  • No central authority
  • Adding devices doesn’t cause any issues with transmissions

Main Drawbacks of The Mesh Topology:

  • It takes a lot of time to set up
  • One of the most expensive and complex topologies to get working and maintain consistently
  • Chance of redundant connections being passed when flooding

5. Ring Topology

The ring topology uses a token-based principle to create a connected ring of devices with two neighbors on each side, ensuring peak transmissions. The data packets here move in a loop, creating a ring structure. This means that each node in the topology has an equal chance of passing data like any other. The ring is also capable of sending data at any time.

There are two kinds of ring topologies- single and dual. The single ring topology uses a half-duplex, while the dual ring uses a full-duplex to enable clockwise and anticlockwise data transfers.

Main Draws of The Ring Topology:

  • Miniscule chances for packets to collide because of the token system in place
  • Very high speed
  • Extremely cost-effective
  • It’s possible to ensure both directions of data transfer using the dual ring topology
  • Very cheap
  • Point-to-point connections within nodes make it a lot easier for administrators to find errors

Main Drawbacks of The Ring Topology:

  • It’s crucial to have constant upkeep of monitoring in the network
  • A node failing can have a cascading effect on the network
  • Bandwidth limitations
  • Adding or removing devices can lead to delays
  • You can have a transmission line failure

6. Hybrid Topology

Hybrid topologies utilize a combination of the multiple topologies listed above. These are often used by larger organizations operating different topologies for different departments’ needs. A hybrid topology such as a mixture of a star topology and a ring topology has pros and cons.

Main Draws of The Hybrid Topology:

  • Extremely flexible, reliable, and scalable- perfect for a fast-growing business
  • It’s possible to modify the network
  • The peak of hybrid topology gives simple fault-detection and troubleshooting

Main Drawbacks of The Hybrid Topology:

  • Frequently the most expensive
  • Multiple station access units are necessary
  • You need professionals to manage it

Picking The Right Network Topology For You

There are a variety of factors at play when it comes to selecting a network topology. These range from the length of the cables, how scalable it is, how much it costs etc. These factors will determine how suitable a given topology is for you.

Practically all topologies utilize cables; however, the prices of these cables can vary quite wildly. This especially escalates when it comes to the installation, as installing more expensive cables can often be more money than it’s worth for the business. Additionally, the more complex your chosen topology is, the more likely it will cost a pretty penny to set up right.

Small businesses or larger ones whose focus is away from networking might opt for a bus topology. This is because of its ease of installation in addition to being cheap and lightweight. Furthermore, a fast-changing business will want a topology where they can easily add and remove devices.

On the other hand, an organization that wants large networks with various branches, such as a university, will opt for a tree topology.

When selecting a network topology, you need to consider the following factors:

Cable Length & Type

Network topologies generally involve three kinds of cables- twisted-pair, coaxial, and fiber-optic. The least expensive are twisted-pair cables; however, they have a somewhat limited bandwidth than the other two. Coaxial cables are generally sufficient for most networking needs, meeting a midpoint of price to effectiveness. Finally, fiber-optic cables are the most expensive of the three; however, they offer blisteringly fast data transfers.

The longer the cables, the more time and money it will take to install them. This increases even more if you’re using more expensive cable types. At a low investment level, ideally, you’d be using a bus or star topology.


Different topologies are better for different needs. First, you need to look at your business and determine what kind of data transfers you’re most inclined to use. Optimizing your business is one of the most challenging steps in selecting a network topology, but it is well worth it.


Although we’ve already looked at some cost aspects, setting up the topology and paying for maintenance is crucial in determining the correct topology. Looking at how complex the topology is to maintain and monitor is essential to this.


In a growing business, you need to future-proof as much as you can. Scalable network topologies ensure that you can expand your infrastructure in the future. Using a star topology is generally ideal for mid-sized fast-growing businesses, as it makes adding new nodes extremely simple and risk-free.

Using A Tool

Frequently, managing and mapping a network can be a loathsome task. Mapping by hand can take hours upon hours of your IT team’s time, only to need re-doing when a device is added or removed.

Because of this, many companies elect to have a tool to help them handle their network topologies. One of the best tools on the market for this is the FIPS 140-2 compliant tool SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper.

This tool will let you scan brand-new devices, automate mapping, and help you keep tabs on the nodes within your network. This can help you find changes made to your topology or restore it from the tool’s records if something goes wrong.

It provides in-depth topology maps and reports helping you save valuable time and money that could be spent elsewhere. These reports will then help your IT team get a better grip on your network, in addition to being easier to present to other departments.

A 14-day extended free trial lets you use the tool to help you take inventory and manage the devices within your network. You’ll also be able to make your authentication and modification processes a lot more efficient. In addition, you can store all of the information the tool gathers, as well as set up auto-discovery systems so that all of your network information is updated in real-time.

The SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper comes with a 14-day free trial.

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Closing Words

Network topologies are crucial to the day-to-day operations of most modern businesses. So deciding on the right one to use can end up saving you massive amounts of time and money.

When selecting a topology, the biggest thing you need to consider is what exactly you’re looking to accomplish with it and what kind of business you’re running. Generally, it’s a good idea to use a tool to help you out with mapping and management.

Did we miss your favorite network topology?

What kind of topology does your business use?

Let us know in the comments below!