Common Ethernet network cable are straight and crossover cable. This Ethernet network cable is made of 4 pair high performance cable that consists twisted pair conductors that used for data transmission. Both end of cable is called RJ45 connector.
The cable can be categorized as Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6 UTP cable. Cat 5 UTP cable can support 10/100 Mbps Ethernet network, whereas Cat 5e and Cat 6 UTP cable can support Ethernet network running at 10/100/1000 Mbps. You might heard about Cat 3 UTP cable, it's not popular anymore since it can only support 10 Mbps Ethernet network.
Straight and crossover cable can be Cat3, Cat 5, Cat 5e or Cat 6 UTP cable, the only difference is each type will have different wire arrangement in the cable for serving different purposes.
You usually use straight cable to connect different type of devices. This type of cable will be used most of the time and can be used to:
1) Connect a computer to a switch/hub's normal port.
2) Connect a computer to a cable/DSL modem's LAN port.
3) Connect a router's WAN port to a cable/DSL modem's LAN port.
4) Connect a router's LAN port to a switch/hub's uplink port. (normally used for expanding network)
5) Connect 2 switches/hubs with one of the switch/hub using an uplink port and the other one using normal port.
If you need to check how straight cable looks like, it's easy. Both side (side A and side B) of cable have wire arrangement with same color. Check out different types of straight cable that are available in the market here.
Sometimes you will use crossover cable, it's usually used to connect same type of devices. A crossover cable can be used to:
1) Connect 2 computers directly.
2) Connect a router's LAN port to a switch/hub's normal port. (normally used for expanding network)
3) Connect 2 switches/hubs by using normal port in both switches/hubs.
In you need to check how crossover cable looks like, both side (side A and side B) of cable have wire arrangement with following different color . Have a look on these crossover cables if you plan to buy one. You can also find more network cable choices and information from Comtrad Cables.
In case you need to make a crossover cable yourself! You can use this crimper to do it.
Lastly, if you still not sure which type of cable to be used sometimes, try both cables and see which works.
Note: If there is auto MDI/MDI-X feature support on the switch, hub, network card or other network devices, you don't have to use crossover cable in the situation which I mentioned above. This is because crossover function would be enabled automatically when it's needed.