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What are Network Drivers?

Article Details
  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Network drivers are the software interface between the hardware network system and the software operating system. Network drivers generally come from the company that made the computer’s networking hardware, the operating system’s manufacturer or the company that assembled the computer. Without a network driver, it is impossible to get online or access any computers on the local network.

On a computer, drivers are an interface between hardware and software. Operating systems may understand how to utilize a general piece of hardware, but not a specific one. For instance, the technologies in video cards change dramatically every few years. While an operating system knows how to use a video card in general, a specific card may have functions that weren’t even possible when the operating system was released.

Drivers tell software, such as an operating system or a video game, how to use the special features on the hardware effectively. In some cases, functions of a piece of hardware aren’t available unless you have the correct driver installed. Even so, this is rarely the case in network drivers. A network controller system is a simple and mostly unchanging set of hardware. While some drivers are updated constantly to use their abilities more efficiently, network drivers rarely need that level of interest.

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Networking drivers are often an overlooked update on a computer system. Unlike some component drivers, updated network drivers are not critical to a computer’s operation. Drivers that worked well several years ago will likely work just as well today. One of the few exceptions to that are drivers that contain security vulnerabilities. In many of these cases, it is more likely that those problems would end up patched by the operating system rather than the network hardware manufacturer.

When network problems present themselves, updating the network drivers can help. Generally, the computer’s operating system will make generic network drivers that will work just fine. These drivers are typically available through the system’s automatic update.

If these drivers don’t work, or are unavailable, there are two other common areas to try. If the computer came preassembled, then the drivers will likely be available on the company’s website or the computer’s original installation disk. If that doesn’t work, the website of the network system’s manufacturer will have drivers on their website. In order to find the site, it's necessary to know the networking system manufacturer and the model type.

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