Computer Network vs Distributed System: 17 Differences

By Dominic Chooper on September 24, 2022

In a computer network mostly autonomous computers are interconnected. These computers are usually interconnected to share data and information between them.

In a distributed system, however, several autonomous computers are used but these systems are visible to the users.

There are quite a few other major differences between a computer network and a distributed system which may not be known to you just as any other user.


Computer Network vs Distributed System – The 17 Differences

Computer Network and Distributed System

1. Basic Difference

A computer network simply refers to the set of autonomous computer systems as well as other devices that are connected together mainly for exchanging data and information along with other common resources.

On the other hand, in a distributed system all of the different independent computers are transparent to the user.

It simply refers to the set of computers connected together to carry out different operations related to the same problem.

2. Philosophical Difference

If you look at it philosophically, a computer network refers to creating a shared space to fulfill a particular task.

On the other hand, a distributed system can be philosophically said to create a shared purpose.

3. Main Function

The main purpose of a computer network is to offer functionalities that are related to networking.

These are the nodes of the network that are utilized for communicating with each other for the reason of exchanging and delivering data from one to another single node or multiple nodes.

On the other hand, the main purpose of a distributed system is to connect several computers through a network but they perform separately to carry out computing tasks that may be the same to a single computer.

These are the computing nodes that are responsible for communicating with each other with an intention to process data or run any application.

4. System Failure Effects

In a computer network there is usually a server that handles all the connected members.

This means that if one particular computer system goes down, the entire network of computers is affected.

On the other hand, in a distributed system setup, every member supports the other computer system related to it and if one system fails, it is only that one that will stop working but the others will be fully functional.

5. Modification

In a computer network, the implementation of the computer systems does not allow making any further changes or modifications to the core operating system of it.

On the other hand, in a distributed system you are allowed to upgrade the components of the system as and when required.

6. Requirements

A computer network normally needs the users to simply log in onto any one available computer system, submit the jobs that they want remotely and/or move files or data across the network explicitly.

On the other hand, in a distributed system, it is the operating system mainly that allocates the different jobs to the processors automatically as well as transfer data and files among several computer systems without requiring an overt intervention from the users.

7. Way of Working

In a computer network all of the computer systems and other devices connected together to it share the hardware, software and other common resources.

On the other hand, in a distributed system all the computer systems attached to each other work towards solving the different operations of a common problem.

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8. The Concerns

A computer network is primarily concerned with the protocols and internet stack, both of which need to work in perfect tandem to make the internet work precisely.

On the other hand, a distributed system is mainly concerned with the challenges, problems in hand, and the consequent procedures and paradigms that are typically related to building systems.

These systems in particular consist of several nodes that talk to each other through a communication channel in order to offer a particular type of service.

9. Components Point of View

In a computer network, all the necessary components are made available to the users.

All they have to do is connect to the other computers within the network through the internet, Local Area Network or LAN, SSH or Secure Shell.

On the other hand, in a distributed system the user only has the screen, the keyboard, the mouse and a single machine available in order to connect to the particular server.

It is here in the server that the other components such as the Central Processing Unit or the CPU and others are available and are assigned to the users.

10. Usage

Network operating system helps to manage data, users, groups, security and other network related functionalities.

On the other hand, a distributed operating system only helps the users to accomplish the given task or tasks by sharing resources and by collaborating with the other interconnected computer systems through a shared network.

11. Coherence

In a computer network there is no coherence between the collections of computer systems that are connected to each other.

These are all interlinked with one particular technology rather.

Here it is the actual machines that the users are exposed to but they do not look or act in a coherent fashion.

On the other hand, in a distributed system there is an obvious coherence existing in the computer systems.

These are connected and independent but still appear to be a single coherent system to a user.

12. Objectives

The main objective of a computer network is to offer local services to remote clients.

On the other hand, a distributed system is set up with an intention to manage the hardware resources.

13. Mode of Communication

In a computer network, communication typically takes place on the basis of the files.

On the other hand, in a distributed system the messages and shared memory are the basis of communication.

14. Scalability and Fault Tolerance

A computer network is more scalable in comparison to a distributed system. However, in terms of fault tolerance it lags behind it.

On the other hand, a distributed system has a low scalability but relatively a high fault tolerance.

15. Autonomy Rate

In a computer network, the rate of autonomy is pretty high, while in comparison, the distributed systems have a much lower rate of autonomy.

16. Ease of Implementation

A computer network is much easier to implement as compared to a distributed system.

17. Operating System

In a computer network every node in it has a separate operating system. On the other hand, in a distributed system it is the same operating system for all the nodes.

Which is More Useful – Computer Network or Distributed System?

Though the above list of differences throw some light on this aspect, it will be quite difficult for you to understand if it is said that none among the distributed system and a computer network can be said to be more useful in isolation.

This is because one is related to the other while serving the same purpose which is to establish a communication with the other systems that are interlinked.

Therefore, you will need to know a few other important facts about them both so that you find it easy to differentiate between them.

For example, a laptop computer is a distributed system.

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There are several CPU cores, a large number of other devices, and a variety of buses in it to communicate with each other and solve a common problem – to process the instruction given to it.

Still, the laptop computer typically does not fall within the sphere of a computer network.

This means that, from the technical perspective, even though both these types of arrangements of computers are the subfields of computer engineering and computer science, these certainly deal with distinctly different sets of problems and abstractions.

Typically, a computer network is set up for the primary intention to share resources but the distributed system model uses the components available on the computers in the network to coordinate and communicate their actions with each other by passing messages.

The whole idea of all the components interacting with each other in the system is to achieve the common goal.

A few good examples of distributed systems could be middleware, and also those different portions of a large website that are hosted on several other servers.

These can be considered as a distributed system.

Moreover, an n-tier application in which there is a server or a few servers hosting a database and other servers hosting the front-end application which is accessed by a client is also an example of a distributed system.

Any website that uses a different database is actually a distributed system.

Typically, there is an underlying computer network on which a distributed system runs.

For example, Hadoop, a distributed file system, works on a network of computers.

A distributed system typically offers replication, localization and others but a computer network is an important and integral aspect of it, which, however, is often not realized.

Ideally, a distributed system creates an illusion to a user who thinks that the particular system being used is coherent and all information is stored in that particular device.

However, in reality, it is not possible because there is never enough space in a given system to store all available information and data.

On the other hand, in comparison, a computer network does not create any such illusions.

The users can get all the information necessary for the hardware and different operating systems of the machine from any given self-capable computer system that is interconnected.

Therefore, a user can simply log into a particular system on the network in order to run a program on a remote computer.

There are lots of users who believe that a computer network is nothing but just the particular software or hardware that allows the computer system connected to the network to exchange data but still operate independently.

However, it will be more appropriate for them to consider a computer network that includes the computer systems that are connected to each other but still can operate independently.

This means that each of the systems in a network appears as a separate system to the others.

On the other hand, in a distributed system the computers connected in it coordinate among each other to create one single system.

The distributed system then offers one or more services to those devices that are outside the system.

This means that the users do not need to care about or know which particular computer system in the distributed system holds a specific piece of information and data or which particular machine performs a specific role.

A computer network, simply put, depends on the IP protocol when it connects to the other different computer systems in it to communicate with each other and exchange data and information.

A distributed system is one particular application of such a computer network in which every connected computer system except one are changed into slave machines.

These computer systems follow the instructions of the master computer such as coordinating the behavior of them.

However, if the computer network is decentralized, in that case there will be some fixed set of rules for the slave machines to follow in order to serve an incoming request.

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This does not mean that these slave machines however are responsible solely to carry out the instructions of the master computer and perform nothing else.

On the contrary, in reality, the slave machines will perform some other functions.

A botnet is a good example of it in the hacking world. This actually refers to a set of computer systems that are infected with malicious code.

This code forces the master computer to use it and send the net traffic to a specific target address.

However, besides this act of sending data, the computer system otherwise remains largely in the control of the local users.

That is why, in most of the cases, the computer systems that are infected with such malicious codes often go unnoticed.

This is the exact reason why the botnets are so resilient.

Another good example is the creation of distributed databases by the websites that need a larger amount of hardware in order to operate their databases.

You can take Cassandra, for example, a creation of Facebook.

In such cases there is no real slave machine or a master computer actually.

This is because it is the system itself that chooses the server in question depending on two specific factors such as partition tolerance and the availability and not based on the master commands, as it is in the above case.

Therefore, this makes it both a decentralized as well as a distributed system.

However, it is computer networking that offers the benefits with its series of rules to all these use cases.

A distributed system, which is the interaction or exchange of data or exercising control between the components and is significantly different from the components interacting, can be one or a combination of different factors such as:

All these factors or concerns are also common to a computer network which is why it is said that a distributed system typically has a computer network underlying as one of its parts.

However, it is not essential or sufficient for a distributed system to qualify to have a computer network.

It is only the scale and the characteristics that are taken into account to mark a system as distributed.

These characteristics are summarized as follows:

Typically, you can consider a computer network to be a distributed system by and itself.

However, this does not mean that converse is true – that is all distributed systems should not be considered to be a computer network.

This is especially applicable when a computer network is set up for telecommunications purposes.


So, that is all you need to know about a computer network and a distributed system in order to distinguish between the two.

This article must have also helped you quite a lot in knowing that though one is a subset of another, they both follow different ways to serve the same purpose – communication.