The Internet you use every day wouldn’t be possible without network devices like switches, routers, and modems. Network switches and routers are two of the most widely used network devices in the world, but they are often used incorrectly and interchangeably.
While routers and switches have significant differences in how they work in a network, they have fundamental similarities. Let’s dive into these network devices and the difference between a router and a switch.
Understand basic networking terms
Before we get into the technical details of comparing routers and switches, we need to understand some of the fundamental concepts of a network.
The Internet is a global network that connects billions of devices and allows users to exchange information, media and more. The two main types of networks you need to be aware of are wide area networks (WAN) and local area networks (LAN).
A LAN connects a relatively small group of computers, usually in the same building. Your office or home networks are good examples of local area networks. On the other hand, WANs connect different LANs; the internet we use daily is a public WAN accessible worldwide.
Additionally, each device on a LAN or WAN has a designated IP address that allows it to identify itself and communicate with other devices. The laptop, smartphone and tablet you use are connected to your local network and each device has its own IP address.
Imagine sending an email to an acquaintance in another city to understand how data transfer occurs in a network. It is inconvenient to send your email in one big chunk, so it is broken down into several smaller packets first.
Each packet is then sent (routed) to the destination IP address. Eventually, the packets end up on your acquaintance’s PC, which then assembles the received packets and displays the email.
What is a Switch
A network switch connects multiple devices such as PCs, printers, and servers within a single local area network. Once all the devices in a network are interconnected, they can easily exchange information with each other. In the seven-layer OSI model of the Internet, switches typically operate in Layer 2.
Switches use each device’s MAC address to forward data packets to the correct destination.
What is a Router
A router is a vital network component that connects multiple switches. While switches connect different devices within a small LAN, routers are the link between different small LANs. These networks can be spread over different geographical locations or confined to a small area.
Routers perform various tasks but essentially route network traffic by deciding the best possible path for a data packet. Network devices can also access the Internet using routers.
Switch vs Router
Now that you have a good idea of what routers and switches are, we can take a look at the critical differences.
A router is essentially more advanced and sophisticated than a switch. They can perform network address translation (NAT), make routing decisions faster, and use routing algorithms to direct data across large networks.
Routers join different LANs, while switches operate within a LAN. It is also important to note that switches are part of the data link layer and therefore usually work with data frames. In contrast, routers are part of the network layer and use data packets instead.
Difference Between Router and Switch
Network switches and routers are essential devices that help us access the Internet in our daily lives. While there’s a lot more behind the scenes, it’s the fundamentals that set the two apart.
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