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Token Ring vs. Ethernet: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 9, 2023
Token ring is a LAN technology using a ring topology and tokens for data transmission, while Ethernet is a LAN technology using a bus or star topology and CSMA/CD for data access.

Key Differences

Token ring is a local area network (LAN) technology that follows a ring topology. In this setup, each connected device (or node) receives data in a sequence from its preceding node and forwards it to its subsequent node. The data transmission in a token ring network is regulated by a "token." This token is a special data packet that circulates around the ring. Only the device holding the token can send data, ensuring an organized and collision-free communication system.
Ethernet, on the other hand, is also a LAN technology but primarily employs bus or star topologies. The data transmission in an Ethernet-based network operates on the Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) principle. This means devices on the network listen for traffic and send data when the channel seems clear. If two devices transmit data simultaneously, a collision occurs, and the devices must wait and retry.
Token ring was primarily championed by IBM in the 1980s. Its design ensured a predictable and consistent network performance, especially in networks with heavy traffic. The regulated nature of token passing prevented data collisions, making it an appealing choice for some business applications.
Ethernet, in contrast, has been more widely adopted and is supported by a broad range of devices and manufacturers. The ease of installation, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness of Ethernet made it the dominant LAN technology. Even though collisions can occur, advanced technology and faster transmission rates have minimized their impact, making Ethernet highly efficient.

Comparison Chart


Ring topology.
Primarily bus or star topology.

Data Transmission

Uses a token for controlled transmission.
Uses CSMA/CD for data access.

Championed By

DEC, Intel, and Xerox.

Collision Management

Prevents collisions through token passing.
Manages collisions using CSMA/CD.


Less widespread.
Dominant LAN technology globally.

Token Ring and Ethernet Definitions

Token Ring

Token ring operates using a circulating token to control data transmissions.
The token ring method ensures that data collisions are minimized.


Ethernet employs either bus or star topologies for data transmission.
The modern Ethernet setup in our office uses a star topology.

Token Ring

Token ring is often associated with IBM, its primary advocate.
IBM's token ring technology was prevalent in the 1980s.


Ethernet networks use CSMA/CD to handle data traffic and manage collisions.
Collisions in an Ethernet system are detected and managed through the CSMA/CD protocol.

Token Ring

Token ring is a LAN protocol that utilizes a ring topology.
Our office initially used a token ring network before switching to Ethernet.


Ethernet offers various speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 100 Gbps and beyond.
We upgraded our network to Gigabit Ethernet for faster data transfer rates.

Token Ring

Token ring systems require specialized hardware and adapters.
To connect to a token ring network, you'd need a token ring network card.


Ethernet is a widely-used LAN technology.
Most home networks are based on Ethernet technology.

Token Ring

Token ring networks are known for their predictable performance under heavy traffic.
Due to its controlled data transmission, the token ring was a top choice for data-intensive tasks.


Ethernet has been standardized and is supported by many manufacturers.
Devices from various brands come equipped with Ethernet ports.


Alternative case form of Ethernet


A type of networking technology for local area networks; coaxial cable carries radio frequency signals between computers at a rate of 10 megabits per second


Which company was the main proponent of token ring?

IBM was the primary advocate for token ring.

Why was token ring considered reliable for heavy traffic?

Token ring's token-passing mechanism ensures organized, collision-free communication.

What kind of cable was typically used for token ring?

Token ring often used shielded twisted-pair cables.

How does Ethernet manage data collisions?

Ethernet uses the CSMA/CD protocol to manage collisions.

Which is more prevalent today, Ethernet or token ring?

Ethernet is the dominant LAN technology today.

What is the primary topology of token ring?

Token ring utilizes a ring topology.

Which companies initially developed Ethernet?

Ethernet was developed by DEC, Intel, and Xerox.

Are token ring networks still common today?

Token ring has largely been replaced by Ethernet and other newer technologies.

Why did Ethernet become more popular than token ring?

Ethernet's ease of installation, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness contributed to its widespread adoption.

Did token ring support wireless connections?

Token ring was primarily a wired technology, unlike some later iterations of Ethernet which support wireless.

How does token ring prevent data collisions?

Token ring uses a circulating token; only the device with the token can transmit data.

Can Ethernet and token ring devices communicate directly?

Not directly; they require a bridge or a router to facilitate communication.

Can you run token ring and Ethernet on the same cable?

It's not typical, and using the same physical medium would require special configurations.

Are there modern successors to token ring?

While token ring itself isn't prevalent, ring topologies live on in some high-speed fiber optic technologies.

Was token ring typically more expensive than Ethernet?

Yes, token ring hardware was generally more costly than Ethernet.

What are common speeds for Ethernet connections?

Ethernet speeds range from 10 Mbps to 100 Gbps and beyond.

Which topology is most associated with modern Ethernet?

Modern Ethernet often uses a star topology.

Which is faster, token ring or Ethernet?

Ethernet offers higher speeds, especially with its modern iterations like Gigabit Ethernet.

What's the maximum length for an Ethernet cable?

For standard Ethernet over twisted-pair, the maximum length is 100 meters.

What's the key principle behind Ethernet's data transmission?

Ethernet uses the Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) principle.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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