Focus on these topics to pass the i-Net+ exam

Earning a certification that's good for life may be a wise move, particularly if it covers a topic as ubiquitous as the Internet. Here's a look at what you need to know to pass CompTIA's i-Net+ exam.

The i-Net+ certification exam from CompTIA is a vendor-neutral test on Internet technology fundamentals. Like all exams from CompTIA, it focuses on concepts and theories, as opposed to actual product implementation. It is a one-test certification that's good for life. Per the last update in 2001, topics are divided into five domains, weighted like this:
  • Internet Basics and Clients: 30 percent
  • Development: 20 percent
  • Networking: 20 percent
  • Internet Security: 20 percent
  • Business Concepts: 10 percent

As of this writing, the exam for this certification, referenced as exam IKO-002, consists of 74 questions that must be answered in 90 minutes with a minimum passing score of 655 (on a scale of 100 to 900). CompTIA's Web site offers a complete list of the exam objectives.

CompTIA's entry is not the only exam on the market that certifies an understanding of basic Internet technology. It is, however, the only exam that has so many positives going for it. This exam focuses on the basics of Internet technology versus HTML programming, which some others of a similar nature try to include.

You can also use the i-Net+ exam in place of the Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) Foundation's exam to become CIW certified at the Associate level. See for details about the substitution.

Here are nine tips to help guide your study efforts as you prepare for the i-Net+ exam.

Tip 1: Understand caching
The topic of caching appears in both the first and third domains, telegraphing the importance this exam places on the topic. You should know the following:
  • The purpose of caching is always to increase performance. Caching can be done when a user visits a site—saving it for the display the next time the user (or another user) wants that same information—or it can be done proactively. In the case of proactive caching, a caching server visits sites that are commonly viewed by users (without user interaction) and stores the data for display when the user(s) does request the information.
  • Caching can take place at almost any level, from the server (which usually requires a tremendous amount of RAM to perform) to the client. The most frequent method of caching is through utilization of a proxy server. The proxy server can deliver data stored on it to the client quicker than having to establish access to the site.

Tip 2: Know the different types of search indexes
Three types of search indexes are considered relevant for this exam:
  • Static index/site map: A site map displays the layout of the site and the pages beneath it. A static map, as the name implies, is one that does not change but is frozen in time to the last update.
  • Keyword index: This is an index of the most important words within the site. Since it's not as sizable as a full-text index, it can be searched more easily.
  • Full-text index: This is an index of every word that appears within the site.

You can use "noise" lists to exclude specific words from an index.

Tip 3: Know the protocols
Although this exam does not necessarily require you to know how to use all the available protocols, it does expect you to know of their existence and purpose. For this exam, you should know the following:
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) operates at port 67 and leases IP addresses and related information from a scope (pool of addresses) on a server to clients.
  • Domain Name Service (DNS) operates at port 53 and resolves host names to IP addresses.
  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP) operates at ports 20 and 21 and is used to upload and download files from a remote host.
  • HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) operates at port 80 and is the protocol of the World Wide Web service.
  • Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) operates at port 389 and allows applications to obtain directory access and information. It is built on the X.500 standard.
  • Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) operates at port 119 and allows subscription to news servers.
  • Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) operates at port 110 and is used by clients for retrieving mail. An alternative to this is Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), which operates at port 143.
  • Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) operates at port 25 and is used for sending mail between mail servers.
  • Telnet operates at port 23 and allows for the establishment of a dumb terminal session.

Tip 4: Know the diagnostic tools
A number of generic tools are available for network diagnostics. For this exam, know the following:
  • Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) is used to show the resolution between IP addresses and physical (MAC) addresses. A number of options can be used with it; one to memorize is –p, to print the table.
  • ifconfig is used to view/configure IP variables on a UNIX/Linux host.
  • Ipconfig is used to view/configure IP variables on a Microsoft-based host.
  • Netstat is used with a number of options to show statistics for TCP/IP traffic on a host. One of the most common options is –a, to show all data.
  • Network Analyzer analyzes packets of data that are sent across the network.
  • Nslookup is the primary tool for interacting with DNS.
  • Packet Internet Groper (Ping) is the all-purpose tool for verifying that a remote host can be reached. This is done by echoing bytes of data to it and verifying that they bounce back.
  • Trace Routing Utility (Tracert/traceroute) works like ping but also shows the hops taken to reach the remote host. Tracert is the tool that exists for this purpose in Microsoft operating systems, while traceroute performs the same function in the UNIX/Linux world.
  • WinIPcfg is a graphical version of Ipconfig. It shows the IP configuration data for a Windows 9x system.

Tip 5: Know a bit about scripting
This exam differs from the CIW counterpart in that it does not test you in detail on language. Instead, it expects you to know the basics of a number of languages and why one might be used in place of another.

You should know that scripts can be executed on the server or the client. Any execution of a script done before reaching the client is known as server-side, while any done after reaching the client is known as client-side. Scripts written in Common Gateway Interface (CGI) are the most common that run on the server, while those written as Java applets are common scripts that execute on the client.

Tip 6: Know network components
The i-Net+ exam borrows a bit from the Network+ exam, in that it asks you to know the basics of some common network devices. Here are some of the devices the exam covers:
  • Hubs are used in a star network, such as 10BaseT, to provide the central point from which all connections originate. It is easy to add workstations to the network and to reconfigure the network at any given time. The three hub types are passive, active, and intelligent. Passive hubs allow for connections and central wiring only. Active hubs amplify the signals coming in and filter out noise. Intelligent hubs provide switching capabilities or management features.
  • Switching hubs allow quick routing of signals between hub ports to direct data where it needs to go and reduce the bandwidth of sending the data to all locations. Switching hubs are always intelligent hubs.
  • Repeaters (Physical Layer of the OSI model) are used to extend the length of a LAN by amplifying the signal and sending it on, thus preventing data loss due to weak signals. They amplify everything that comes in and send it out, providing no cleaning or filtering of noise.
  • Bridges (Data Link Layer of the OSI model) are used to attach two networks. In a nutshell, a bridge operates by looking at the header of the data that comes to it. If the data is for the network upon which the bridge resides, it leaves it alone. If the data is for another network, it gets rid of it by sending it to a predefined location. Remote bridges are nothing more than bridges that connect two LANs into a WAN.
  • Routers are physical devices that operate at the Network Layer and connect segments into a large network. Routers can be used to establish pathways among any number of networks. The biggest problem with a router is that it depends on the protocol in question to be routable. Routers cannot work with nonroutable protocols—typically those that rely on broadcasts and are intended to stay within the confines of the LAN. With the vast number of network protocols in use, it is easier to remember the small number of nonroutable protocols than the large list of those that are routable: NetBEUI, DLC, and LAT (a protocol from DEC).
  • Brouters combine the features of a router with those of a bridge. You're really combining the MAC subcomponent functionality from the Data Link layer with the functionality of the Network layer.

Tip 7: Understand proxy servers
A proxy server allows multiple workstations to share access to the Internet. There are a number of reasons to use a proxy server, such as decreasing the number of modems and phone lines you need if dial-up access is used (with 100 workstations, you would need 100 modems and phone lines, compared to three to five on the proxy server) or improve security.

Security is enhanced because you have only one entry/exit point to the Internet, vs. one per workstation, and the proxy server can be the only entity running TCP/IP. The proxy can also be running another protocol, such as IPX/SPX, and the clients can be running only IPX/SPX. So if intruders come into your network, it will be through TCP/IP, and they'll be stopped at the proxy.

Typically, the proxy server has a public IP address to reach the Internet and a private IP address for talking with workstations (10.x.x.x, 172.16.x.x - 172.31.x.x, or 192.168.x.x). Since all workstations have an address in the private range, the only traffic in and out of the network is through the proxy.

The mapping between the private addresses and the public address(es) is accomplished via Network Address Translation (NAT). Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) is one such implementation.

A proxy server can decrease browser response time by reading from the cache instead of accessing a site.

Tip 8: Remember the network topologies
Also borrowed from CompTIA's Network+ entry is the topic of network topologies. Remember the following key points.

In a star topology, all cabling originates from a central point. This is most often used with 10BaseT and 100BaseT wiring. The central point is the hub. The use of hubs makes handling network growth easy and can also help you find problems by utilizing the lights and other displays. When you want to remove a client workstation, you simply unplug it from the cabling—either at the NIC or the hub—and move it. When you want to add a new client, you run a cable from its NIC to a free port on the hub and continue on. The advantages of a star topology are twofold:
  • It is easy to add and remove machines.
  • A single malfunctioning node doesn't bring down the entire network.

With a bus topology, which is most often used with 10Base2 and 10Base5 cabling, the computers are connected directly to each other via T-connectors and there is no hub. To remove a client machine from the network, you must shut down the network, route cabling around the machine, and then bring the network back up. To add a new client to the network, you must shut down the network, add the client to the bus cabling, and then bring the network back up.

With a ring topology—most often used with Token Ring networks—the cabling creates a circle or ring. The two end-most computers must be joined, as all computers are part of a closed loop. The biggest downside is that the hardware required to implement ring networking is traditionally more expensive, and finding a cabling problem can be difficult. Adding and removing clients entails downing the network and cabling them in or out of the ring before starting the network again.

With mesh topology, every computer has a direct connection to every other computer. This both allows the data to find the quickest, most direct path to its destination and provides redundancy.

Tip 9: Let common sense be your guide
Every CompTIA exam is loaded with multiple-choice questions, many of which use vague language. The vague language is not there to trip you up or increase the difficulty of the exam but is actually a byproduct of the method CompTIA employs in generating exams—which is a whole topic in and of itself. When you look at the questions, do not over-think them but choose the most obvious answer.

Far too many exam candidates look for hidden meaning or waste time analyzing what should come to them naturally for fear that they are not finding a gem that should be there. Although such tactics can be of help on exams from other vendors, that's not the case with CompTIA exams. Answer each question using the first answer that comes to mind and move on.

Emmett's recommendation
The i-Net+ exam is one of the simpler certification exams currently available from CompTIA. The benefits you gain from demonstrating your basic knowledge of Internet technology, coupled with a certification for life, far outweigh the cost of taking this exam. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to verify their skills through a third party.

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