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Conquering Network+

by Emmett Dulaney

3/29/2006 -- There are a few certification exams that I think fondly of, or find a real purpose for, and Network+ is one of those. I became a fan of this single-exam credential when it first debuted in the late '90s and was embraced by a number of vendors as a substitute for the basic networking test within their proprietary tracks. This vendor-neutral multiple-choice exam was the first one released by CompTIA that had the potential to serve as a key element in certifications from Novell, Microsoft and others (and has). To keep it current, it was revised in 2002 and again in 2005. As of this writing, it is estimated that there are currently 140,000 individuals holding this certification.

Although I already held the certification (and all CompTIA titles are good for life -- you won't need to renew this if you pass it), I retook the exam recently to see what was different with the 2005 objectives and if it was still as good as I remembered it. While I was disappointed that grammar still appears to be a problem on some questions (how hard can it be to run a spelling and grammar check?), the updates make sense and the exam remains a valuable entry-level starting point toward higher-level, proprietary certifications.

All the multiple-choice questions on the exam are short and direct. In fact, there are times when you can cause yourself a problem by trying to read more into the question than is there because they are so short. The best approach to take is to read the question quickly, take it at face value, look at the answer possibilities, choose one and move on before you have a chance to talk yourself out of the right answer.

CompTIA recommends a candidate have at least nine months experience in the field before attempting the exam, but there is no requirement for this. In actuality, nine months should be viewed as a bare minimum. You will also find the exam much easier if you have experience taking other CompTIA exams, namely those for A+, Server+ or i-Net+ since there is a fair amount of overlap in the topics they cover.

A large number of books and self-study aids exist for this exam, but most of the objectives can be researched through a good search engine and hands-on experience. By doing so, you can save the cost of the training materials and use them toward the next step in your studies.

Below I briefly cover just some of the Network+ objectives to give you an idea of exam's topic areas. As mentioned, you'll want to download the complete objectives from CompTIA's Web site, available here.

IP Addressing
As this exam is called Network+, it's not surprising that CompTIA expects Network+ candidates to be proficient in IP addressing and subnetting.

At the very basic level, you should know public networks use public IP addresses that are assigned to them. You must have a public address (at least one) to communicate on the Internet. Within each of the network classes, a range has been set aside as private. Private networks use addresses within these ranges and do not communicate directly with the Internet, although they may do so indirectly through a proxy or network address translation (NAT) server. The range, based upon address class, set aside is:


A to

B to

C to

Additionally, Microsoft has added to many of its operating systems a default range for clients if automatic IP addresses are not assigned. If a client is set to receive address configuration from a DHCP server and the DHCP server cannot be found, an address in the range of 169.254.x.x will automatically be assigned. This allows the clients on the network to communicate with each other while the DHCP server is down.

Any networking technician worth their salt will make sure they have their subnetting skills down -- make sure you do, too.

Default Ports
Ports are another important topic area for Network+ candidates, as network professionals need to know the common port assignments, and the transport protocol they use. The following table summarizes the most common:

Service Port(s) Transport

FTP 20, 21 TCP
Telnet 23 TCP
POP3 110 TCP

All too often, entry-level admins inherit existing networks and don't need to know much beyond how to expand what is already there or upgrade it. Candidates at the Network+ level should know all the media and topology combinations from days gone by, days present and days to come. While BNC and AUI connectors were belatedly removed from the objectives, they still cover bridges and other old technology. Don't forget about up-and-coming standards like 10GBASE-SR, 1000BASE-LX and so on.

What good is a network if it's not secure? Security is a hot issue, and not surprisingly one that almost every certification covers, including this one. To start, know something about firewalls and be able to identify ports to allow through and block.

TCP/IP Applications
CompTIA expects Network+ candidates to have more than a passing familiarity with the core suite of TCP/IP applications. Do you know the basic commands for use at the command line with FTP applications? The commands that can be used to interact with other TCP/IP applications?

Not only should you know the core TCP/IP applications, but also the troubleshooting tools that tend to be available in every implementation. These range from arp to winipcfg. Anyone at a Network+ level should be very familiar with these tools, the results they display, and when to use one of them instead of another.

More Topics
Here's some other objective areas that should play prominently in your study plans:

WANs: When two or more LANs get together, they form a WAN. You should be readily able to identify all the characteristics of the various WAN technologies from switching to T1 and T3 lines.
Vendor-Specific Networks: While the exam is "vendor-neutral," it does not mean that there are no vendor-specific questions. In fact, you really need to know a lot about the Microsoft Windows-based operating systems (from Windows 98 through Windows 2000), some about Unix/Linux, and a little about Macs. A passing knowledge of NetWare is also required.
Troubleshooting: Know the "logical" steps to take to approach and troubleshoot a problem. CompTIA outlines eight of these on the exam's objectives, pretty much in order of most important to least.
Backups: Understand the different backup types and how they can be used. Appreciate the need to not just do backups, but also verify that they are good backups on a regular basis. Along the same category, Network+ candidates are expected to know the different levels of fault tolerance and the benefits/drawbacks of each.
Wireless: CompTIA had, at one time, planned on creating a certification focused solely on wireless technology. Those plans have been shelved for the time being, but it appears as if some of those questions may have found their way into the 2005 objectives. 802.11x, Infrared and Bluetooth are all topics within this category.

Final Thoughts...
If you're on the road to becoming a network professional, then Network+ should definitely be on your certification consideration list.

Good Luck!




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