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What Are Computer Ports? The Input and Output Interfaces in Computer Networking

All computers, whether they’re laptops or desktop computers, Windows, Macs, Linux or any other operating system, have ports. Ports can be physical and virtual. A standard computer has both types of ports — subsequently both having their own specific functions. Ports, whether they’re physical or virtual, are how devices,  peripherals, computer networks or software, interact and communicate with eachother.

Today we decided toget deep into it and explain — the easy way, so that everyone understands — the all sorts of computer ports and the issues that may arise from using them.

Physical Computer Ports

Physical computer ports are the ones users are more familiar with. The USB port or the HDMI port are common examples of physical computer ports. Both types of ports are found on both Macs and PC. The ports might follow different standards e.g. you might have a few USB 3.0 ports and maybe one USB 2.0 port on your system but there functions are otherwise standardized.

Virtual Computer Ports

Virtual computer ports are used by network devices to interact with each other. They’re used via services that run on a computer and that can send data or listen for incoming requests. Network ports are identified by their numbers and some ports are reserved for a specific service. For example, SSH usually uses port 22, while FTP uses port 20 or 21.

Your router has virtual ports that allow it to direct traffic to the different devices on the network. If, for example, you have network printer and you send a document to print, your router will send the command to the printer via internal ports. On the surface of it, it appears that the router is only using the IP address of the printer to send the print command but virtual ports are at work making sure the correct IP address receives the print command.

Port Issues

Both physical and virtual computer ports come with their own set of problems. With physical ports, the problems are often straight forward while virtual ports have problems that are often difficult to detect and still more difficult to fix.

Physical Port Issues

Physical ports are prone to physical damage such as being punctured with a pin or being damaged when a laptop is dropped. All ports can suffer water damage. Some ports might be damaged if they’re suddenly supplied too much power. Power surge damage is most likely to occur with USB ports. If you connect a device that uses more power than a USB port can provide, it might cause a power surge. Some USB ports are smart enough to be able to disable themselves if this happens, much like a circuit breaker, but others might be damaged.

Virtual Port Issues

Virtual ports can’t be damaged themselves however they pose security risks to the systems they belong to. Most attacks look for and target open, unsecured ports. The most common remedy in this case is often a firewall which restricts the traffic/information that passes through a port. A firewall may generate several false flags which is better than it letting something malicious slip through. Firewalls on both your system and your network are necessary to make sure your virtual ports are secure.

Fortunately, it isn’t easy to just open a virtual port. The dedicated ports that are open are already being used by your router or some other device. All other ports are closed by default and have to be opened with command line utilities or other such tools.

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