A network driver is a software program that controls a device used to connect a computer to a network. Computers can have one or more networking devices, including wireless cards or wired ethernet cards, for example. Without network drivers, these devices cannot work properly and may have trouble accessing the network or executing commands from the user.
Many operating systems come with a library of drivers for commonly used devices. When a network device is added to the computer, the operating system may recognize it and install the driver automatically. In other cases, discs that come with the device contain the drivers and the drivers can be installed. It is also possible to download a network driver from the website maintained by the manufacturer of the device. This option also provides people with access to the latest drivers.
Sometimes, a driver for a given operating system has not been developed. Skilled programmers can write their own network drivers to make the device work with their computers and there are websites and support forums with information to help people do just that. People may also share the drivers they have written with other users so that people do not have to do the work over again. Sharing also provides access to people who will perform debugging and adjust the code to make it better, leading to improvements everyone can benefit from.
The network driver controls the interface between the computer and the network. It is familiar with the protocol being used by the network, creating a unique identification for the computer that can be used in the system. As information is exchanged between the computer and the network, the network driver converts it into usable formats. The network driver also provides feedback to the user about the network status so that people know when they are connected, at what speed, and if there are any problems with the network.
It is advisable to update network drivers when new versions of the software come out. The new versions can address security and device vulnerabilities that might otherwise become a problem for computer users. They can also expand functionality as much as is allowed by the device. People who are not sure about whether or not they are using the latest driver can usually explore the properties on the network device to see which version of the driver software is in use and compare this information with data available on the manufacturer's website.