Brief Description

An Extranet is similar to an Intranet except that it also allows participation by individuals outside an organization such as donors, partners, beneficiaries or customers. An extranet might be a copy of that material in an organization's intranet that can be shared with partners, or it might be entirely new content intended mainly for partners or to allow collaboration between partners and staff.


Early History: Extranets first appeared within a year of the creation of Intranets, around 1995. Like Intranets, early Extranets were initially available only to large corporations, which used the technology to provide customers and suppliers with access to the company's network. Libraries soon adopted the technology. The first states to use library Extranets included Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Rhode Island and Utah.
Continued History: In the summer of 1996, IBM brought the term “Extranet” to public attention when it used an Extranet system to distribute information at the Atlanta Olympic games. Extranets allowed for the creation of the Virtual Private Networks, a type of Extranet that uses public network protocols to allow networked communication among authorized organizations. As mid-sized business gained access to Extranet technology, they began to divide these networks into two basic categories: business-to-business and business-to-consumer. The former isolates the Extranet from all other Internet users while the latter allows a single authorized server to communicate with previously unknown customers online.

When to use

When you want to share documents and resources with selected people outside the organization with whom you work, but not make them publicly available. Extranets may be differentiated in that different external partners have access to different parts of the extranet depending on their needs and on confidentiality concerns.

How to use

Extranets are used much in the same way as intranets, except that they can be accessed remotely. An organization could use an extranet, for example, as a way to exchange large files between the organization and an outside contractor. All the outside contractor would need would be a password, so that they can access the extranet from the Internet.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

Extranets can be used to make a limited part of an organization's intranet available to external partners. However it is important to be clear to staff which content is shared with external partners and which is only available internally via the intranet, so that your staff can be sure not to accidentally share material that should not be shared with external partners. If you contribute content with links to other parts of the intranet/extranet it is important to use "relative" links so that they will work in either the intranet or extranet.

Login ids and passwords for staff members should ideally be harmonized between intranet and extranets and preferably it should be easily possible for staff to switch between them without relogging in.

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