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What are NIC Drivers?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated May 16, 2024
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Network interface card (NIC) drivers are computerized instructions and information that are required for a NIC card to be operational after it is installed into or connected to a computer. These instructions usually are written by highly proficient computer programmers who might program in a variety of programming languages such as C or C++. A NIC card is a hardware device, and hardware drivers might be thought of as the computer code or machine language that "drives" hardware or makes it work. If a NIC card was physically connected to a machine but there were no NIC drivers available to provide the instructions and information necessary to permit the machine to know that the device had been attached and how it is supposed to work, network connectivity would not be achieved.

Although NIC drivers are developed in a specific programming language just as computer software is, they usually are not referred to as computer programs or software because they tend to be smaller in file size and have the specific purpose of "driving" a piece of hardware. They are, however, sometimes called driver software. There are many types of drivers; for example, NIC drivers drive what is known as a NIC card, printer drivers drive a printer, and sound card drivers drive a sound card.

These drivers not only enable the hardware card to function, they also are intricately involved in configuring the settings for it. When a computer needs to be connected to the Internet, a NIC card or a modem, which is a form of a network interface card, must be used. Information is carried from machine to machine across networks via wires or waves, and that information can be in the form of electronic mail, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), file sharing or facsimile, commonly known as fax. These various features and configurations are made possible by NIC drivers. Another less commonly used term for drivers is "controllers," because they control a device.

A network interface card, when purchased new, almost always comes with the NIC drivers needed to make it work provided on a compact disc (CD) by the manufacturer. Depending on the brand of the card, the NIC drivers might be included in the operating system running on the machine. If they are not included, they must be installed. Many manufacturers also make the drivers for their cards available to be downloaded free of charge from their official company website. Other sites on the Internet also serve as databases from which users can download drivers for NIC cards as well as drivers for many other computer hardware devices.

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Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Jul 08, 2014

@Vincenzo -- here's something even simpler. Most modern computers come with all the networking hardware and drivers built it. Everything should be up and running as soon as you unpack that computer and set it up.

That is because the notion of a computer that is not network ready is almost unheard of today. It wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, it was common to buy NIC cards and deal with installing the drivers to make them talk to your computer.

By Vincenzo — On Jul 07, 2014

Unless you get some funky, off brand card the chances are good that the driver for the NIC card will be built into your operating system. Plug in the card, turn on the computer and the correct driver should install automatically. No muss, no fuss.

That is precisely why you rarely see used computer peripherals come with driver software. The process of installing drivers has gotten a lot easier of the years, hasn't it?

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