What Is an Ethernet Port?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A Ethernet port is a jack or socket on a computer that allows the use of an Ethernet connector. These ports are essential in allowing the creation of local area networks (LANs). An Ethernet port is usually found on networking devices, including computers, routers, video game consoles, modems, and televisions.

An Ethernet cable.
An Ethernet cable.

Ethernet is a communication system that allows multiple local devices to share information and work together. For example, in an office, there may be six workers, each with their own computer, all of which need to access the same databases, programs, and external devices such as printers and scanners. By hooking each device up to a central server or hub using Ethernet technology, all devices will be able to access the same information and effectively “talk” to all other devices on the network.

Ethernet cables plugged into an Internet switch.
Ethernet cables plugged into an Internet switch.

An Ethernet port allows the creation of networks using wired connections. This socket, which looks much like a large phone jack, allows the insertion of an Ethernet cable. Ports and cables are typically used only to connect devices at a close range, such as in the same building, due the the impracticality of laying miles of cabling across town, or hundreds or thousands of miles of cabling across continents. Devices such as computers and printers typically have one port that allows them to join a network, while network devices such as modems may have several, to allow for the connection of multiple components.

A wireless router with a cord plugged into the Ethernet port.
A wireless router with a cord plugged into the Ethernet port.

Devices that do not have a physical port may still allow attachment to an Ethernet network in one of two ways. First, many newer computers have a built-in Ethernet card, which allows the creation of wireless Ethernet networks that do not require cabling, substituting wireless technology. Second, for devices without an Ethernet card or dedicated port, a port may sometimes be created by attaching an Ethernet adapter, or “dongle,” to a USB port.

One disadvantage to a physical Ethernet port is its susceptibility to damage and difficulty of repair. It is important to be very careful when inserting or removing a cable from the port, as physical elements of the port can be damaged. Repairing an Ethernet port usually requires that the device be sent back to the manufacturer or to an electronics repair service, which may be prohibitively expensive. Some people choose to simply ignore a broken Ethernet port, instead buying an Ethernet dongle and hooking into the network using a USB port instead. This quick fix may not always be possible, however, as not all USB ports on all devices are capable of using an Ethernet adapter.

What Does an Ethernet Port Look Like?

Ethernet ports are squarish and look similar to other electrical device ports. In fact, they seem so similar that you may accidentally try to connect the wrong cable at times. Fortunately, there are a few characteristics that can help you identify which port accepts ethernet cables.

Location

Ethernet ports are typically on the back or side of a device, depending on its type. For example, modems and routers almost always have ports in the back, while laptops may have them on the side. Towers for desktop computers generally have them in the back.

Clip

Ethernet cable connectors aren't quite squares -- instead of four flat sides, they have one side with ridges. These ridges accommodate the clips that secure ethernet cables. That way, you can't simply pull the cable out like you would a USB.

What Is an Ethernet Port Used For?

All ports connect cables to devices, and ethernet ports are specifically designed for ethernet cables. These cables allow devices to connect to others without the use of Wi-Fi.

Internet Connection

If you don't have Wi-Fi, your Wi-Fi is turned off or your Wi-Fi connection isn't great, you can still access the internet by connecting your device directly to the router. Some offices have their computers connected via ethernet cables because a physical connection is more reliable than Wi-Fi, which can suffer interference from physical objects and electrical output.

Local Network Connection

Sometimes computers and servers are connected to each other, but not necessarily to the internet. These local networks, also called intranets, are essential to businesses and other organizations that need to coordinate several projects at once. Ethernet ports and cables are indispensable for connecting devices in these instances.

Where Can You Learn How To Test Ethernet Port?

If you're having trouble connecting to the internet or a network, but your cable seems to be fine, the problem may be your port. Fortunately, you can learn how to test your ethernet port right here. To determine whether a port is functioning correctly, follow these three steps.

1. Connect Device and Router to Ethernet Switch

First, take your ethernet switch and connect it to the router using an ethernet cable. Then, connect a device, such as a computer, to the switch. In theory, you should now be able to access the internet without issue. If you can't, then move on to the next step.

2. Reset Router

When you can't get an internet connection, and your device isn't the issue, the router is often the problem. Routers are the gateways to the internet, so no one can access the web if they're not running properly. Resetting the router usually fixes this issue. To reset the router, turn it off, wait up to 30 seconds, then turn it back on and allow it to boot up.

3. Check Lights

Once your router is back up, it's time to check the ethernet switch. When the ethernet switch is connected to a device, the light over the occupied port is green. Next, open your browser and see if you can connect to the network or internet.

What Kind of Devices Have Ethernet Ports?

Since many types of devices have an internet connection, there are a wide variety of appliances that have ethernet ports. However, because ports have to be a certain size, smaller items such as smartphones don't have them.

Televisions

Smart TVs have a direct connection to the internet so that users can stream content from web-based services such as Netflix. While all smart TVs can access Wi-Fi, users may use an ethernet cable instead for uninterrupted viewing.

Video Game Consoles

Today's video game consoles connect to the internet for many reasons:

  • Allowing users to play with others
  • Updating console security and game patches
  • Providing streaming content such as movies and shows

Newer consoles can use Wi-Fi, but the older generations may require ethernet cables to access the web.

Computers

In today's internet age, if a computer can't get online, it's next to useless. That's why computers of all shapes and sizes can connect to Wi-Fi. However, if the Wi-Fi connection is spotty, using an ethernet cable may be preferable.

What Are the Different Types of Ethernet Cables?

Ethernet cables may initially all look the same, but there are several different types. Which you need depends on what you want to connect and what level of service you require.

Stranded Cables

Stranded cables are tough and less likely to break than solid ones. They may cost more, but you won't have to replace them as often.

Solid Cables

Though more affordable than stranded cables, solid cables are more likely to break. However, their single wire delivers better service, so they are an excellent choice for businesses.

Printers typically have one Ethernet port.
Printers typically have one Ethernet port.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a EasyTechJunkie writer.

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Discussion Comments

IronAssassin

Even in this day and age of WiFi, I often use my computer's ethernet port to connect to the web.

I have an ethernet port on my TV. I wonder what that could be used for?

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