Understanding Ring Topology: A Detailed Exploration

author avatar

20 Jun, 2023

A Ring Topology Orientation

A Ring Topology Orientation

Ring topology is one of the early implementations in the world of computer networking. Its simplicity in transmission, fair access control for modes, sequential data management, and other concepts continue to influence the evolution and designs of modern computer science.

Introduction to Ring Topology

Ring topology is a network architecture in computer networks. The orientation involves various devices each connecting to the other two devices using a RJ-45 or a coaxial cable, forming a “ring” within which the frames circulate continuously in one direction. Owing to its simplicity, the potential for fault tolerance, scalability, orderly data flow, and other advantages, the topology has served to be the limelight in the technology industry. While overshadowed by other topologies in modern networks, understanding its features serves as a fundamental in appreciating the technological advancements that have emerged in recent years. ,. In the upcoming discussion, we will delve into the working principles, pros &cons, comparisons with other topologies, real-world applications, and the current applications of the ring topology.

The Basics of Ring Topology

Ring topology, also known as circular topology, is used in Local Area Networks (LAN) & Wide Area Networks (WAN). Below we’ll understand its 2 crucial features that explain its - architectural orientation, and data transmission.

Node Structure in Ring Topology

In the context of a ring topology, a node represents a point where a computer, printer, or other device (known as a 'station') is connected to the network. Every node here is connected to exactly two other nodes, one upstream and one downstream, in terms of the data flow. This configuration creates a ring-like structure that the data must traverse in a closed loop. The below features make ring topology unique in comparison to the other topologies: 

  1. Data traverses from one node to the next, in a sequential manner. 

  2. The data traverses only in one direction - either clockwise or anti-clockwise, giving it the name unidirectional ring. However, with dual rings, data can flow in the reverse direction, making it bidirectional. The latter proves to be helpful in case of fault tolerance or troubleshooting. 

  3. While data transmission takes place between the sender and the receiver, the channel bandwidth is exclusively available to the 2 nodes. This (and the above configurations) eliminates any chances of data collision, as observed in other topologies.

  4. The above configurations are implemented with the help of the token passing concept, as will be explained in the next section.

To conclude, the design of nodes is an integral part of the ring topology which ensures that the data is correctly passed from one node to another, minimising the chance of data collision. It also provides each node with an equal opportunity to transmit data, which is beneficial for systems where fairness and orderly access to the network are important. This makes the topology useful in applications where a deterministic and predictable data flow is preferred. We will explore further advantages in the upcoming sections.

Data Transmission in Ring Topology

The operation of data transmission in a ring topology is guided by a unique process known as token passing, which mitigates data collision and enhances efficiency. 

Token passing in a ring topology is a deterministic method, which implies that there is no randomness in deciding which node will have the chance to transmit data next. A small data packet, the "token", circulates the network in an orderly fashion.

Let’s briefly understand the data transmission procedure, step-by-step: 

  1. A special control frame or message called a token, circulates the ring. It serves as a permission mechanism that grants each node the opportunity to transmit the data. Therefore, the nodes are not able to transmit data unless they have control of the token.

  2. Consider Node A, possessing the token. It then packs it with the data, the MAC address of the receiver node, and its ID.

  3. The filled token then sequentially traverses the ring, node by node, examining if it is the target node. This continuous checking and forwarding process keeps the data moving along the network until the target node is encountered.

  4. On encountering the target device, it copies the data, and its flag is set to 0, indicating the successful transfer. 

  5. The token then acknowledges the sender node about the successful transmission of data. The acknowledgment function is optional and its implementation depends on the industry, considering its impacts on the performance.

  6. The token is now available for the next operation.

Token passing provides a smooth, orderly, and efficient data transmission process, especially useful when managing heavy traffic loads.

Despite these advantages, the method comes with some trade-offs as well. The primary one is latency. Given that each node has to wait for the token to arrive before it can transmit data, delays can be a concern, particularly in large networks. Similarly, if a token is lost or a node fails, it can disrupt the network's operation, indicating the importance of network monitoring and robust error detection mechanisms within ring topology networks.

For instance, in a ring network with 100 nodes, if each node holds the token for 5 milliseconds before passing it on, a node could potentially have to wait up to 0.5 seconds to transmit if it just missed the token. This is a simple numerical demonstration of how latency could add up in a large ring topology network.

We’ll now observe the advantages and disadvantages of the ring topology orientation.

Advantages of Ring Topology

In the context of networking topologies, ring topology presents several distinct benefits that contribute to its selection as an ideal solution for particular networking situations. Here, we delve into those primary advantages.

  1. Deterministic & Predictable: One of the major benefits of ring topology is its deterministic nature. With its token-passing protocol, every node in the network gets an equal opportunity to transmit data. By controlling data transmission this way, ring topology facilitates a predictable network performance which is particularly advantageous in areas where predictable and orderly data transmission is required, and time sensitivity is an important factor..

  2. Simplicity & Cost-Effective: Compared to the other topologies, ring topology is simpler to implement, requiring fewer cables and equipment for setup. This reduces the complexity, saves a lot of time, and incurs lesser cost.

  3. Scalability: Adding or removing nodes can be done without disturbing the entire network. However, it is worth noting that doing so requires momentarily breaking the ring, leading to temporary network downtime

  4. High Data Transfer Rates: Unlike many other topologies, the unidirectional nature of traffic in a ring topology and its fair access control to each node ensures reserved bandwidth availability during transmission. This allows data transfer at a high speed. 

  5. Fault Tolerance: Fault tolerance is essential in systems where any disruptions or downtime can have severe consequences. Whenever a device or a connection in the ring fails, the data can travel an alternative path through the other available devices and complete the transmission. This ensures continuous and reliable communication. However, this is achieved through additional measures such as dual rings.

  6. Fair Access Control: The token protocol avails fair access control to all the nodes. Not only allowing one device to transfer data at a time but also letting each node take turns sequentially, overcoming the challenge of data starvation caused due to device monopolization.

However, while ring topology presents several key benefits, it's critical to remember that its advantages will be best realised in scenarios that align with its strengths. Its unique features make it an ideal fit for networks where predictable performance, high data transfer rates, and efficient handling of traffic load are priorities.

Limitations of Ring Topology

While ring topology carries numerous advantages, it also brings with it specific limitations that must be considered when deciding whether to implement this network structure. 

  1. Single point of failure: A significant challenge lies in its inherent dependency on the continuous functioning of each node. In a ring topology, each node is integral to the transmission path. Thus, if one node fails, it isolates the remaining network partially. This issue is easily observed as compared to a star topology, where the failure of one node doesn't disrupt the operation of others.

  2. Complexity in the configuration: Ring topology is more complex to configure and manage compared to other topologies, such as bus or star when it comes to. Nodes in ring topology have their own unique place in the ring, meaning that adding or removing a node requires breaking and reforming the ring. Consequently, while adding or removing nodes can be done without disturbing the entire network, the process requires careful planning and temporary downtime. This can affect the overall network performance.

  3. Token Delay: The performance of a ring topology also tends to degrade as more nodes are added or when the network is under heavy traffic. This is due to the nature of the token passing protocol where each node has to wait for its turn to transmit data. As the number of nodes increases, so too does the wait time, increasing the potential for latency.

  4. Network Isolation: When a device failure occurs within the ring, it affects the other devices that follow it. This isolates the following devices from the network and affects the complete performance, as well as data transmission. This is certainly due to the unidirectional nature and can be resolved with redundant connections and dual ring connections between each node. 

Considering these limitations is vital to make an informed decision about the suitability of ring topology for a given network situation. Though these challenges exist, there are instances and use cases where the advantages of ring topology may outweigh its disadvantages, making it an effective choice. For instance, in scenarios where network predictability and equal access for all nodes are paramount, the benefits of ring topology can often justify the potential limitations. However, with an increased number of devices, its limitations with speed, scalability, and other factors, dominate its advantages.

Comparisons of Ring Topology with Other Topologies

Ring Topology vs Bus Topology

A Bus Topology implementationBus topology

Ring and bus topologies, while sharing the commonality of being network structures, have differing characteristics that influence their appropriateness in various use cases.

  1. Network Structure: A bus topology involves all nodes connected directly to a central cable, or "bus." This centralised nature contrasts sharply with the decentralised setup of a ring topology, where each device is connected to the other 2 devices. Additionally, both the terminals in a bus topology are terminated and hence are also called a linear structure as compared to the ring structure of the ring topology.

  2. Data Transmission: One technical difference to consider is how data is transmitted. In a bus topology, data in the bus travels in one direction as in ring topology. However, unlike ring topology where the token passes from node to node sequentially, data here is broadcasted throughout the central bus, and all the devices receive data simultaneously. Then the devices determine the data by checking whether it is intended for them. 

  3. Latency: Owing to the simultaneous broadcasting concept, latency is low in bus topology. In contrast, ring topology employs a token-passing system, where a "token" or permission to send data is passed from node to node. While it ensures orderly data transmission, it also introduces latency with increasing nodes.

  4. Fault Tolerance: When comparing both topologies in terms of fault tolerance, bus topology falls short, as a single break in the central cable can cause the entire network to fail. On the other hand, while ring topology is also vulnerable to node failures, it can be rectified with dual ring and other redundant links to mitigate this risk.

  5. Scalability: In terms of scalability, bus topology might have an edge. Nodes can be easily added or removed in bus topology without disturbing the rest of the network. Conversely, in ring topology, adding or removing a node necessitates a temporary breakdown of the ring, creating a short period of network disruption.

  6. Data Collision: In terms of data collision, bus topology encounters more challenges. Since all nodes share the same bus to communicate, there's a higher risk of data collision, especially when the network is busy. In ring topology, the chance of collision is practically eliminated as each node gets its turn to transmit data.

Overall, the decision between implementing a ring or bus topology will be influenced by several factors, including the required fault tolerance, the projected network size and traffic, and the available resources for network setup and maintenance.

Recommended reading: https://www.wevolver.com/article/bus-topology-the-backbone-of-simple-network-design

Ring Topology vs Star Topology

Star TopologyStar topology

When considering ring topology against star topology, a few distinctive characteristics emerge that differentiate the two.

  1. Network Structure: In a star topology, all nodes connect individually to a central node, which is a stark contrast to the ring topology where each node connects to two other nodes forming a continuous loop. This structural difference is key when assessing the resilience of the two topologies. 

  2. Data Transmission: Moreover, star topology is known for its simplicity in managing network traffic. Due to the central node acting as a switch, it efficiently routes and controls data packets, reducing the possibility of data collision. This contrasts with ring topology's token-passing system which, while organized, might introduce latency issues, especially as the number of nodes in the network increases.

  3. Fault Tolerance: In a star topology, if a single node fails, only that node is affected and the network continues to function. This contrasts to ring topology, where the failure of one node can potentially disrupt the entire network unless redundancy measures such as dual ring setups are employed. The central node in a star topology, however, also introduces a significant point of failure. If the central node fails, it causes a complete network outage, making the network less robust than a ring topology in this aspect. To counter this, significant resources are often allocated to ensure the reliability of the central node, which can add to the cost of implementing a star topology.

  4. Scalability: When it comes to scalability, star topology is more flexible. Nodes can be added or removed without any significant impact on the network. However, in ring topology, any addition or removal of nodes causes a brief network disruption.

  5. Transmission Speed: A more technical aspect of these topologies lies in their transmission speed. The star topology generally experiences less network traffic, as data doesn't need to pass through multiple nodes before reaching its destination. On the contrary, in ring topology, a data packet might need to traverse multiple nodes, leading to potential delays, especially in large networks.

In summary, the choice between ring topology and star topology hinges on various factors like the acceptable level of fault tolerance, the expected network size, latency considerations, and the available budget for network setup and maintenance.

Recommended reading: https://www.wevolver.com/article/a-comprehensive-guide-to-understanding-star-topology-in-computer-networks

Ring Topology vs Mesh Topology

Mesh TopologyMesh Topology

Contrasting ring topology with mesh topology illuminates significant differences, as well as trade-offs, in their structures, fault tolerance, complexity, and cost.

  1. Network Structure: Mesh topology is a network design where each node is interconnected to others, creating multiple pathways for data transmission. In contrast, ring topology involves one device connected to two others at a time, forming a ring. This is designed for an orderly and deterministic performance.

  2. Data Transmission: Since each device is interconnected with each other with a dedicated point-to-point link, mesh topology facilitates bidirectional communication i.e. data can flow in both the directions. 

  3. Redundancy: The mesh network structure allows for robust fault tolerance, a feature that distinguish it from ring topology. In the ring topology, as noted earlier, a single node's failure can potentially disrupt the entire network, whereas, in a mesh topology, multiple redundant paths ensure that network operation can continue even if multiple nodes fail. This level of redundancy has made mesh networks an attractive choice for applications where high availability is crucial.

  4. Complexity: In terms of complexity, mesh topology is typically more complex than ring topology. This is due to the fact that managing connections and routing data across a multitude of paths requires sophisticated algorithms. This is in stark contrast with the relatively simple routing strategy in ring topology, where data circulates in one direction along the ring until it reaches its destination.

  5. Cost: When we consider the cost, ring topology offers an economic advantage over mesh topology. Ring topology requires fewer cables and network devices, keeping hardware costs lower. Mesh topology, due to its high level of interconnectivity, requires more networking cables and devices, significantly escalating the overall cost.

  6. Scalability: It's important to note scalability differences. While adding or removing a node in a ring topology may cause a brief network disruption, mesh topology allows for seamless scalability due to its multiple interconnections. However, this scalability comes at the cost of increased complexity in managing and maintaining the network.

  7. Transmission speed: The transmission speeds in the two topologies are also worth contrasting. With a mesh topology, the numerous available paths can potentially enable faster data transfer as data packets can take the most efficient route to their destination, bypassing busy or failed nodes. In a ring topology, each data packet may have to pass through several nodes before reaching its destination, which can introduce latency, particularly in large networks.

In conclusion, mesh topology and ring topology each have their strengths and weaknesses. The choice between them should be made based on specific network requirements, including considerations for cost, fault tolerance, network size, and complexity.

Ring Topology

Bus Topology

Star Topology

Mesh topology

Network Structure

Closed Ring Loop.

Each device (also called nodes) is connected to the other 2, in a closed ring loop.

Linear Central Bus.

All devices are connected to a common central bus which is linear.

Central node/switch.

All devices are connected to a central node or switch, forming a star structure.

Interconnected devices.

Each device is directly connected to the other devices, creating multiple alternate pathways for data transmission.

Data Transmission

Controlled using Token Passing.

Uses token-passing system, making data transmission orderly and deterministic. Unidirectional data transmission.


Data sent by one device is directly received by all other connected devices, resulting in faster transmission.

Unidirectional data transmission.

Controlled by the central node.

Data is transmitted between the devices through the central hub (or switch), which manages and controls the traffic.

Shortest path.

Since multiple paths are available for the data to travel, the shortest route is chosen for the data to reach the destination device. Bidirectional data flow.


Moderate scalability. 

Adding or removing a device between existing ones requires advance planning. However, it doesn’t disrupt the existing network but may cause temporary network downtime.

Limited scalability. 

Has an edge over ring topology, as adding or removing the device doesn’t impact the bus or network. However, adding more devices leads to data congestion, affecting the performance.

Good scalability. 

New devices can easily be connected to the central switch without affecting the network due to point-to-point connection. However, this depends on the capacity of the central hub or switch.

High Scalability. 

It’s easier to add a device in the mesh topology depending on the type of device and its available ports. However, it adds to the cabling and configuration complexity.

Fault Tolerance

Failure of a single device in the network isolates the rest part. However, with dual ring implementation, this is enhanced.

Least fault tolerant. 

While a device failure may not affect the network, any failure in the bus media fails the whole network.

Limited fault tolerance. 

Failing of the central hub or switch fails the complete network. This can be addressed with redundant central hubs or switches, which adds complexity and increases cost.

High fault tolerance. 

The multiple pathways between devices makes it easier for data to reroute in case of any device failure.


Low to Medium

With sequential transmission and unidirectional flow of data, latency is generally low. However, this increases with the added number of devices, data congestion and other factors. 


Because of a common shared bus data can directly be sent to the receiving device, resulting in a low latency. However, with added devices the latency increases due to data collision, etc.


The direct connection between devices and the central hub allows for efficient data transmission, resulting in low latency.


Depending on multiple factors such as distance, network congestion, device performance,etc. latency is variable in mesh topology



Low (Costlier than Ring Topology)



Hybrid Topology

Hybrid TopologyHybrid Topology

Hybrid Topology is a network configuration where more than one topology is integrated together in a single network. The resultant topology is advantageous as it includes the benefits of multiple topologies instead of being limited by a particular one. The added strength of multiple topology plays a significant role in helping achieve better efficiency in the implementation. This however varies from one organisation to the other based on their requirements.

Let's consider the popular star-ring topology combination. This brings in the high reliability of the ring topology in terms of data transmission and time-sensitivity, as well as the high fault tolerance of the star topology which doesn’t impact the complete network in case of any failures in the devices or transmission. A few other combinations of Hybrid topology are star-bus topology, bus-ring topology, mesh-star topology, mesh-tree topology, etc.

The wide range of advantages offered by Hybrid topology benefits a wide range of fields - from home, offices, and schools to private & public business, as well as research organisations and bank industries. 

Recommended reading: https://www.wevolver.com/article/network-topology-what-are-mesh-star-bus-ring-and-hybrid-topologies

Real-World Applications of Ring Topology

Ring topology finds applications in numerous fields where network reliability and performance are key. One such field is metropolitan area networks (MANs), where ring topology is often leveraged in the form of FDDI (Fibre Distributed Data Interface). FDDI utilises a dual-ring structure for data transfer, providing redundancy and hence enhancing the network reliability. FDDI networks can extend up to 200 kilometres, offering a data transmission rate of up to 100 Mbps, which suits well for high-speed data transfer across a city or campus.

Token ring networks, once a popular choice for office networking, are another application of ring topology. IBM introduced the concept of token ring networks in the 1980s. The 'token' in this context refers to a kind of permission that circulates around the network; only the machine possessing the token can transmit data. Token ring networks offered robust error detection capabilities and could support hundreds of nodes, suitable for medium-sized office environments.

SONET (Synchronous Optical Networking) and SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) networks also employ ring topology. These technologies are designed for carrying large volumes of data over long distances, often utilised by ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and telecom operators for backbone infrastructure. SONET/SDH networks use ring topology to create redundancy and ensure high availability. These networks can operate at multiple gigabits per second, and they offer capabilities for carrying various types of traffic, including voice, video, and data.

Ring networks have also found use in some industrial control systems, particularly those that require determinism in data delivery. These include automated manufacturing processes, where different components of the system need to communicate synchronously. The predictable data transmission pattern in a ring topology network provides the required determinism for these systems.

In summary, ring topology plays an integral role in various fields, from metropolitan networks and office networks to high-speed telecommunications infrastructure and industrial control systems. The inherent characteristics of ring topology, such as its predictable data flow and potential for redundancy, make it an appealing choice for these applications.


Despite being one of the earliest types of network topologies, ring topology continues to have specific applications where its unique properties are advantageous. It exhibits robust data handling capacity and offers potential for creating redundant networks, which enhances reliability. However, it also possesses certain limitations, such as a single point of failure and a potentially lengthy data transmission time, which can hamper performance.

Key distinctions exist when comparing ring topology with other topologies like bus, star, and mesh. Each topology has unique characteristics that make them better suited for specific applications. For instance, the bus topology's simplicity might be perfect for small networks, while the high redundancy of a mesh topology makes it ideal for large-scale, critical applications where network failure is not an option.

In real-world applications, ring topology is often used in metropolitan area networks, office networks, and in industrial control systems. Each application leverages the strengths of the ring topology, like predictable data flow and potential for redundancy, while also mitigating its limitations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is the primary advantage of ring topology?

A: The primary advantage of ring topology is its simplicity in managing network traffic. Each node in the network has exactly one input and one output path for data, reducing the chances of data collisions and making it easy to control data flow.

Q: Is ring topology still relevant today?

A: While ring topology isn't as commonly used in modern local area networks (LANs) due to advancements in technology and the prevalence of star topology, it still has its uses. It is often employed in specific applications such as in metropolitan area networks and certain industrial control systems.

Q: What is the main disadvantage of ring topology?

A: One of the main disadvantages of ring topology is the potential for a single point of failure. If one node in the network fails, it isolates the remaining network. However, this can be rectified using dual rings or redundant links.

Q: Why would you choose ring topology over other network topologies?

A: The decision to use ring topology over others would largely depend on the specific needs of the network. Factors like network size, data transfer volume, reliability requirements, and available resources can influence this decision. For instance, in scenarios where deterministic data delivery is important, like in certain industrial control systems, ring topology could be a preferred choice.