If you've ever worked in a large corporation, you've probably already worked with the intranet or extranet. In simple words, an Intranet is a private network and a database that is restricted and can only be accessed by company employees, and an Extranet is accessible to outside contractors. In this article, we will explain to you what is the difference between intranet and extranet, and how both of them function.
An intranet is a set of Internet services (for example a web server) inside a local network, i.e. only accessible from workstations of a local network, or rather a set of well-defined networks that are invisible (or inaccessible) from the outside. It involves the use of Internet client-server standards (using TCP/IP) protocols such as, for example, the use of Web browsers (HTTP protocol-based client) and Web servers to create an information system inside of an organization or enterprise.
An intranet is generally based on a three-tier architecture, comprising:
- clients (generally Web browsers);
- one or several application servers (middleware): a web server which makes it possible to interpret CGI, PHP, ASP or other scripts and translate them into SQL queries to query a database;
- a database server.
In this manner, the client machines handle the graphical interface while the different servers handle the data. The network makes it possible to exchange queries and the responses between clients and servers.
An intranet naturally has several clients (the computers of the local network) and may also comprise several servers. A large enterprise may, for example, have a web server for each service to provide an Intranet comprising a federator web server linking the different servers that are managed for each service.
Usefulness of an Intranet
An intranet within an enterprise makes it easy to make a wide variety of different documents available to employees, which provides centralized and coherent access to the enterprise's knowledge, which is referred to as capitalization of knowledge. In this manner, it is generally necessary to define the access rights of the users of the Intranet to the documents located thereon, and consequently authentication of such access rights to provide them with personalized access to certain documents.
Documents of any kind (text, images, videos, sounds, etc.) can be made available on an Intranet. In addition, an Intranet may provide a very interesting groupware function, i.e. allow group work. Here are some of the functions which may be provided by an Intranet:
- Access to information regarding the enterprise (bulletin board)
- Access to technical documents
- Search engine for documentations
- Exchange of data among coworkers
- Staff roster
- Project management, decision-making aid, agenda, computer-aided engineering
- Discussion forum, distribution list, direct chat
- Internet portal
An Intranet therefore favors communication within the enterprise and limits errors as a result of poor flow of information. Information available on the Intranet must be updated to prevent version conflicts.
Advantages of an Intranet
An Intranet makes it possible to create an information system at a low cost (specifically, the cost of an Intranet may very well be limited to the cost of the material, its maintenance and updating, with client workstations operating with free navigators, a server running under Linux with the Apache web serve, and the database server MySQL).
On the other hand, considering the "universal" nature of the means in play, any type of machine can be connected to the local network, i.e. the Intranet.
Implementation of the Intranet
An Intranet must be designed in accordance with the needs of the enterprise or of the organization (at the level of the services to be implemented). The Intranet must therefore not only be designed by the computer engineers of the enterprise, but within the scope of a project which takes into account the needs of all the parties interacting with the company.
Insofar as physical setup is concerned, it is sufficient to set up a web server (for example a machine running under Linux with the Apache web server and the database server MySQL or rather a server under Windows with the web server Microsoft Internet Information Server). It is then sufficient to configure a domain name for the server (for exampleintranet.your_entreprise.com. Please note that there are CMS systems (content management systems) which allow management of the publication of pages by a team of editors.
An extranet is an extension of the information system of the company to its partners located outside of the network. Access to the extranet must be secured to the extent that the same provides access to the information system for persons located outside of the enterprise.
This might involve simple authentication (authentication via username and password) or strong authentication (authentication via a certificate). It is recommended to use HTTPS for all web pages that are consulted from the outside to secure the transport of HTTP queries and answers and to prevent, in particular, the open transfer of the password on the network.
An extranet is therefore neither an Intranet nor an Internet site. It is rather a supplementary system providing, for example, the clients of an enterprise, its partners or its subsidiaries with privileged access to certain computer resources of the enterprise via a Web interface.
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