The original Ethernet specification was the 1976 paper of Metcalfe and Boggs, [MB76]. The data rate was 10 megabits per second, and all connections were made with coaxial cable instead of today’s twisted pair. The authors described their architecture as follows:
We cannot afford the redundant connections and dynamic routing of store-and-forward packet switching to assure reliable communication, so we choose to achieve reliability through simplicity. We choose to make the shared communication facility passive so that the failure of an active element will tend to affect the communications of only a single station.
Classic Ethernet was indeed simple, and – mostly – passive. In its most basic form, the Ethernet medium was one long piece of coaxial cable, onto which stations could be connected via taps. If two stations happened to transmit at the same time – most likely because they were both waiting for a third station to finish – their signals were lost to the resultant collision. The only active components besides the stations were repeaters, originally intended simply to make end-to-end joins between cable segments.
Repeaters soon evolved into multiport devices, allowing the creation of arbitrary tree (that is, loop-free) topologies. At this point the standard wiring model shifted from one long cable, snaking from host to host, to a “star” network, where each host connected directly to a central multipoint repeater. This shift allowed for the replacement of expensive coaxial cable by the much-cheaper twisted pair; links could not be as long, but they did not need to be.
Repeaters, which forwarded collisions, soon gave way to switches, which did not (2.4 Ethernet Switches). Switches thus partitioned an Ethernet into disjoint collision domains, or physical Ethernets, through which collisions could propagate; an aggregation of physical Ethernets connected by switches was then sometimes known as a virtual Ethernet. Collision domains became smaller and smaller, eventually down to individual links and then vanishing entirely.
Throughout all these changes, Ethernet never implemented true redundant connections, in that at any one instant the topology was always required to be loop-free. However, Ethernet did adopt a mechanism by which idle backup links can quickly be placed into service after a primary link fails; 2.5 Spanning Tree Algorithm and Redundancy.