Types of Ethernet Connectors

While browsing through all of the available Ethernet connectors on a vendor’s site this morning I was struck with just how many different styles are available today. I thought that it may be helpful to some people if I took a few minutes to list out some of the most popular styles, what they are used for, and some of my options on if they are worth using or not. In no way do I intend this to be an exhaustive list of all of the available options. Instead, I intend to create an overview of many of the different types of Ethernet connectors available on the market.

Male Ethernet Connectors

All of the connectors in this section work by fitting inside of another connector and are based on the Registered Jack standard.

The RJ45 Connector

Sometimes called the 8P8C connector, the RJ45 is the most basic connector that is designed to work in an Ethernet network. This connector works by terminating each of the individual wires in an Ethernet cable to one of a row of copper pins. A standard RJ45 connector is often the cheapest way to terminate an Ethernet cable but there are a wide variety of extra features and functionality that can be obtained by upgrading to one of the more expensive options.

The Booted RJ45 Connector

The first major feature that you will see when going up in price is the addition of a boot. These rubber or plastic pieces are designed to protect the RJ45 connector from the most common types of wear and damage that are seen in Ethernet cables. Boots protect the inside of the connector from dust and grime. They also provide strain relief and keep the connecter or its clip from getting snagged on things and broken. In general RJ45 connectors with boots cost a bit more and are a little harder to put together and use but tend to last much longer. I consider a boot to be an essential feature and rarely install an RJ45 without one.

The EZRJ45 Connector

Another very common variant of the standard RJ45 connector is the EZRJ45 or the Easy RJ45. This connector is the same shape and size as a standard RJ45 connector and can be found with or without protective boots. The biggest way that this style differs from the standard connector is in the way that it is installed.

To terminate a standard RJ45 connector the installer has to line each of the eight wires up in the proper order, trim the wires to the exact correct length, thread them all into the connector at the same time, and then crimp them down using a special tool all without a single wire slipping out of position. This can be a little bit tricky and takes some people quite a bit of practice before they can do it reliably.

The creators of the EZRJ45 connector designed their offering in such a way that it is easier for some people to put together but it does have its drawbacks. This connector is easier for beginners because you do not have to thread eight perfectly trimmed wires into the connector at the same time. The EZRJ45 is opened up at its tip like a bead. Because of this modification, you can thread each of the eight wires all the way through the connector one at a time. The wires are then crimped and trimmed at the same time by a special tool made specifically for this style of connector. A pair of EZRJ45 crimpers can be used on a standard RJ45 jack and some people say you can use normal crimpers on the EZRJ45 connector as long as you go back and trim the wires with a knife but I find that this can lead to problems down the line so I would recommend only using this type of connector if you are willing to pay a little extra for the special tool.

Some people find them easier to installWears out faster than standard connectors
Reduced chance of miss-wiring as everything can be double checked before crimpingCan short out at the end if not trimmed perfectly
Can be harder to plug in if not trimmed perfectly
Takes longer to install once you get practiced with both styles
Benefits and Drawbacks of the EZRJ45 connector

While the EZRJ45 connector can be easier for newer installers to put together I would recommend staying away from them unless you only have a small number of cables to terminate. The reasons for this are fourfold. The first is that I have found that this style of connector does not last quite as long as the standard connector. Because the tip of the connector is open the connection between pin and wire is not as well protected from moisture, dust, and in the end, corrosion. 

Two other problems with this connecter have to do with the fact that depending on the quality and age of your crimpers the wires coming out of the front will not always be trimmed perfectly. If these wires are just a little bit longer than they are supposed to be this can make it difficult if not impossible to plug the connector all the way into its mate. The other problem I have seen with improperly trimmed wires in EZRJ45 connectors is that some Ethernet jacks have metal in the back that the wires can short out against. Both of these problems are particularly common when the connectors are installed with standard crimpers and a knife rather than the purpose-built tool. 

The fourth and final reason I tend to stay away from this type of connector is that I have found that the standard connector goes together quite a bit faster than the EZRJ45 once you have had the chance to practice for an hour or two. I can personally terminate the standard connector much faster. Because of this, anyone that has more than a hand full of cables to terminate may not even be saving time by investing in EZRJ45 connectors.

The RJ45S Connector

One feature that I do not recommend for most people is the shielded RJ45 connector. These are usually called the RJ45s connector and should only be used in very specific situations. The general idea of Ethernet shielding is to protect against EMI or electromagnetic interference. In most situations, EMI is handled by the way that the wires in an Ethernet cable are twisted together. While the construction of an Ethernet cable is normally sufficient to counter the effects of EFI, some environments require additional protection.

In situations where there is too much EFI Ethernet cables do not perform well. They may even have issues connecting altogether. In these situations, the best thing to do is to move the Ethernet cable further away from the source of EMI. If it is not possible to move the cable, RJ45s connectors can be paired with special shielded Ethernet cables to provide an additional layer of protection.

I have never been in a situation where I have needed to use shielded cable in a residential setting. The only times that I have needed to use shielded cable at all were; in manufacturing facilities where welding equipment and large three-phase electric motors (like those that power lathes and mills) were commonplace, inside of elevator control panels, and on radio masts.

While it may be tempting to upgrade to shielded cable for some people, the normal construction of Ethernet cable is more than enough to counter the amounts of EMI found in most residential settings. Even homes that do have a source of EMI, like a welder, have the problem better resolved simply by running the cable in such a way that it does not need to go near the source of the problem.

Female Ethernet Connectors

Now that we have spoken about some of the most common styles of RJ45 connector out there let’s take a look at their female counterparts. These connectors can be separated into two major groups. The first group is usually used to connect end-user equipment, like computers, to the network and are often referred to as jacks, keystone jacks, or locations. The second major type of female connectors are usually found next to network equipment, like routers and switches, and are designed to be able to fit a lot of connections in a small space. These types of connectors are normally referred to as patch panels.

Ethernet Jacks

Ethernet jacks are used to terminate an Ethernet cable into a female connector that can then be mated with an RJ45 style connector to create a connection. These devices look a lot like the Ethernet port on a computer and are used in much the same way. One of the best things about Ethernet jacks is that they are designed to work with faceplates that allow them to be installed flush with a wall, cabinet, or another piece of furniture. Because of this, they are the go-to choice for terminating an Ethernet cable in any situation where it needs to look nice.

These connectors are terminated by lining up the individual wires inside of an Ethernet cable with the correct pins on the back or top of the jack. The wires are then terminated into the connector and trimmed back using a special tool called a punch down tool. Once the cable is terminated into the connector you can snap the connector right into a faceplate to create a finished location.

These connectors come in a wide variety of styles. For example, you can get an Ethernet jack that is shielded in much the same way that the RJ45S connector is designed. You can also find connectors with boots but this is not as necessary for jacks as it is for their male counterparts. You will also see that many jacks are advertised as keystone jacks. All this means is that the jack will fit into a keystone faceplate.

If the product you choose does not say that it is a keystone style it will not work with most other brands and you will need to make sure to get its matching faceplate. For example, CommScope makes their own special faceplates to go with their jacks while Legrand, Ortronics, Leviton, and many other companies make keystone jacks that will usually work well with most keystone faceplates regardless of the brand. That being said some companies’ faceplates work better than others in the cross-compatibility department so it is best to just keep with the same brand whenever possible.

Patch Panels

Patch panels are much like Ethernet jacks in that they provide a way to terminate cables into female connectors. The major difference is that patch panels are designed so that you can terminate multiple cables into the same device. The most common patch panel size is 48 ports which is far too large for most residential products but you can also find patch panels that are much smaller and accommodate fewer connections. Here is a great example of a compact little 24 port panel.

The great thing about patch panels is that they allow you to install a lot of cables in a much smaller space than if you did the same job with jacks and faceplates. They also tend to be a bit less expensive per port than individual jacks.

The largest drawbacks of using a patch panel are that they do not look very good and do not do anything to seal off the cable from the air in the room. The fact that patch panels do not seal cables off may not seem like a big deal but depending on the situation it may be a bigger problem than you think.

Technically speaking Ethernet cable that is not plenum rated cannot be used in airspace meant for human occupation. That means that if you want to use a patch panel in most rooms in your house you will either need to upgrade your Ethernet cable to plenum-rated cable or buy an enclosure or cabinet designed to hold the cables and patch panel. The rules around the use of plenum cable can be rather complicated so I wrote a whole post on where and when it is required.

Keystone and Modular Patch Panels

An interesting middle ground between Ethernet jacks and patch panels are so-called “keystone patch panels” and “modular patch panels.” These devices combine some of the advantages of both styles of connectors. In short keystone patch panels are nothing more than large faceplates that allow you to snap in a large number of keystone jacks into a small space. Modular patch panels allow you to buy smaller banks of ports and then combine them into a larger distribution panel as you need to expand. In the example below a single distribution panel has been populated with two Ethernet modules as well as one for phone and one for coax cable.

Keystone Patch Panel

Distribution Panel With Ethernet, Phone, and Coax Modular Panels

These form factors allow you to buy only the number of connectors that you will need to complete your project but will leave room for expansion in the future. For some situations, this is a welcome feature when compared against a standard patch panel. When choosing a patch panel it is common to need to choose between paying for more ports than are currently needed and making sure there is enough space for future expansion. This problem is resolved by using either of these form factors.


There are a large variety of different styles of Ethernet terminations available on the market today. With a little bit of understanding, it is possible to separate the different features available and make a wise decision about what products should and should not be used in your project.