Token Ring: A hardware layer network protocol described in IEEE 802.5 definition. The Token Ring network was originally developed by IBM in the 1970s. It is still IBM's primary local-area network (LAN) technology. The related IEEE 802.5 specification is almost identical to and completely compatible with IBM's Token Ring network. In fact, the IEEE 802.5 specification was modeled after IBM Token Ring, and it continues to shadow IBM's Token Ring development.

Token Ring and IEEE 802.5 networks are basically compatible, although the specifications differ in minor ways. IBM's Token Ring network specifies a star, with all end stations attached to a device called a multistation access unit (MSAU). In contrast, IEEE 802.5 does not specify a topology, although virtually all IEEE 802.5 implementations are based on a star. Other differences exist, including media type (IEEE 802.5 does not specify a media type, although IBM Token Ring networks use twisted-pair wire) and routing information field size.

Token Ring and IEEE 802.5 are two principal examples of token-passing networks (FDDI? is the other). Token-passing networks move a small frame, called a token, around the network. Possession of the token grants the right to transmit. If a node receiving the token has no information to send, it passes the token to the next end station. Each station can hold the token for a maximum period of time.

If a station possessing the token does have information to transmit, it seizes the token, alters 1 bit of the token (which turns the token into a start-of-frame sequence), appends the information that it wants to transmit, and sends this information to the next station on the ring. While the information frame is circling the ring, no token is on the network (unless the ring supports early token release), which means that other stations wanting to transmit must wait. Therefore, collisions cannot occur in Token Ring networks. If early token release is supported, a new token can be released when frame transmission is complete.

The information frame circulates the ring until it reaches the intended destination station, which copies the information for further processing. The information frame continues to circle the ring and is finally removed when it reaches the sending station. The sending station can check the returning frame to see whether the frame was seen and subsequently copied by the destination.

Unlike CSMA/CD networks (such as Ethernet), token-passing networks are deterministic, which means that it is possible to calculate the maximum time that will pass before any end station will be capable of transmitting. This feature and several reliability features, make Token Ring networks ideal for applications in which delay must be predictable and robust network operation is important. Factory automation environments are examples of such applications.