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The main WAN (wide area network) of this world is the one named "The internet" although there might be others I don't know of.
Contrastingly, there is no "main" LAN (local area network) because any human could start a LAN on its own.

I wonder if the difference between WANs and LANs is qualitative AND quantitative or ONLY quantitative.

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    The various xAN (WAN, LAN, CAN, MAN, HAN, etc.) are really rather amorphous. For example, LAN really depends on the context. For a cable installer, a LAN is the cable plant, regardless of the number of networks installed on it, but LAN is also used as a broadcast domain (one network among several at a site), or even as the entire set of networks at a site. LAN depends on the context of "Local."
    – Ron Maupin
    Aug 30 '20 at 17:59
  • It's also heavily application-domain-dependent what exactly constitutes a "LAN". In my home, the sockets in the wall are 8P8C/RJ45 and carry 1G Ethernet, and that's the normal speed at which devices are connected. In my job, 100G is a completely normal port for a device, but we still call it a "LAN". Aug 31 '20 at 21:49
  • Did any answer help you? If so, you should accept the answer so that the question doesn't keep popping up forever, looking for an answer. Alternatively, you can post and accept your own answer.
    – Ron Maupin
    Dec 17 '20 at 21:27
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Yes there is rigorous difference between LAN & WAN. It's all about connectivity . Connection computers and server within same super net is referred as LAN where as connecting others networks with for purpose of shareing resources is called as WAN (wide area network ) .

Local Area Network (LAN):

LAN is a group of network devices which allow the communication between connected devices. The private ownership has the control over the local area network rather than public. LAN has short propagation delay than MAN as well as WAN. It covers the smallest area such as: School , organization's and so on within a building..

Wide Area Network (WAN):

WAN covers the large area than LAN as well as MAN such as: Country/Continent etc. WAN is expensive and should or might not be owned by one organization. PSTN or Satellite medium are used for wide area network.

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Typically, you would not call The Internet a Wide Area Network, because The Internet is not a network, it is a Network-of-Networks (hence the name Internet).

In general, all of those terms are not strictly defined, it is more a "I know it when I see it" kind of thing. I remember back in my "Next Generation Internet" classes (which were actually "ATM is the coolest thing ever and will take over the world" classes), we were using powers of ten to distinguish them:

  • Body Area Network: devices inside of or attached to the body itself, or clothing
  • Personal Area Network: 1m (e.g. Bluetooth)
  • Near-me Area Network: this one is more of an application-level distinction (e.g. "Friends near me")
  • Local Area Network: 100m (e.g. "classical" Ethernet)
  • Campus Area Network: 1km
  • Metro Area Network: 10km
  • Wide Area Network: >100km

But this classification is as arbitrary as any other. Also, I can't remember if we had something between PAN and LAN, or BAN and PAN. I certainly feel there should be a "xAN" acronym for the NFC/RFID space.

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Is there a rigorous difference between a WAN and a LAN?

Technically, different technologies were used for WAN and LAN in the past decades. Today, it's all becoming Ethernet that started out as a LAN technology only, but significantly increases its reach (from 500m to 100 km). So, all that differs now is the PHY variant - LAN uses twisted pair and multi-mode fiber, WAN uses single-mode fiber (low-end WAN also uses voice-grade twisted pair). But of course you can use any suitable PHY variant for either LAN or WAN as required.

Logically, different addressing schemes are used for IPv4: private LAN vs. public WAN, requiring translation in between (NAT/NAPT). For IPv6, different schemes also exist (link-local, site-local, public), but they're used in an overlapping fashion, without need for translation.

Security-wise, LAN usually means trusted and WAN means untrusted. This commands a firewall in between, filtering out unwanted traffic.

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