What Is the Key Difference Between an Intranet & an Extranet?

  Reviewed by: Michelle Seidel, B.Sc., LL.B., MBA
  Written by: Frances Katz      Updated October 25, 2018

Internet, intranet and extranet all sound alike but each refers to a different type of network and who is permitted access to those networks. We know the internet is public and available to anyone. The difference between intranet and extranet is fairly simple: an intranet is a private network only accessible to a company’s employees, while an extranet makes certain parts of a company’s intranet available to certain customers, vendors or others who are vital to business operations, but not the general public.

Tips

  • An intranet is a private network only accessible to a company’s employees, while an extranet permits access to certain customers, clients, contractors or vendors, but not the general public.

An Intranet Connects Employees

Many office workers are already familiar with intranets. When employees log on to their computers at the office, the first page they are likely to see is the intranet portal homepage. It may provide links to important company news, important documents, tools and other resources employees need to accomplish their daily tasks. The only users who can access the intranet portal are employees and other authorized users who are working onsite or within the company’s firewall. A company intranet may also provide access to the public internet, but the firewall prevents anyone outside the company from gaining access.

A simple small business intranet might include an internal email system and a message board for employees and managers to exchange information. More sophisticated intranets provide access to databases, commonly used forms and personnel and payroll information. Schools and non-profit groups also use private intranets to share similar types of information.

Extranets Connect Companies With Partners

An extranet is a secured website made available to a company’s customers, vendors or business partners, but not the general public. To use an extranet, the client or vendor will be given a password or security key to gain access to the portal. Another extranet definition is to think of it as a subset of the information accessible from an organization's intranet.

Access to an extranet is tightly controlled and users will need a user ID, password and/or a security key to log in. An extranet portal only allows users to access specific areas of information. For example, an accounting firm might provide an extranet to clients so they can upload documents and share information with the firm.

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Difference Between Intranet and Extranet

Intranets and extranets both provide businesses with a central place to store and share information that’s critical to business organization and operation such as project information, documents, group calendars and accounting. Both also permit users to collaborate more effectively across the company whether it’s employees in one branch speaking to another or human resources personnel giving out important information.

The differences between intranet and extranet are more subtle to an average user. An intranet is only accessible through an in-house server – in other words, an employee has to be onsite to gain access to the company intranet. An extranet is accessible to employees or other authorized users anywhere in the world as long as they have a user ID and password or another secure method to access the intranet portal. Extranet users usually access the company portal via a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN creates a secure, encrypted way for the company and its authorized users to share data even though users are accessing the extranet from the public internet.

About the Author

Frances is a business writer with over 15 years experience writing about media, technology, retail and related issues for a variety of national and international publications including The New York Times, The Week, USA Today, The Independent, and Lonely Planet News. Follow her on Twitter at @francesk

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