Router vs Switch: Learn the Key Differences

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Some people don’t know just how adaptable networks can be. They can be as small as a computer connecting to a printer. Or, as large as a sprawling web, connecting parts of the planet to one another. We use many types of devices in networks. If you’re looking for the best wireless router for your home wi-fi, or want to find a switch to move data from one point to another on a local network, do so intelligently and efficiently.

Switches and Routers

The comparison between a router and a switch or a router vs. modem, for example, is done entirely on their ability to work as intelligent devices. A router, for example, is used as a gateway to connect multiple devices to a single network. On the other hand, switches are generally used to move data within your internal system.

Addressing

For addressing, your router or switch needs to know where to send data packets. But how does your device know? Using the OSI Model, which we’ll get to in a moment, network protocols give a class for addressing at various levels.

So, the physical layer is where the switch operates. Each device connected to the network is given a MAC address. The identification point allows the switch to identify both the destination and the source.

Routers, however, work on the network layer. These connected devices use the IP address to help determine where data should be routed.

OSI Model

The OSI, or Open System Interconnection model is a framework that shows network functionality. There are seven different protocol layers. These defined layers are as follows:

  • Physical
  • Data Link
  • Network
  • Transport
  • Sessions
  • Presentation
  • Application

A multilayer switch typically resides at the physical and data link layer since they connect directly to devices on your network.

By comparison, routers communicate with other networks, which is why they must use a more sophisticated way to locate devices. Routers reside on the network layer of the OSI framework.

Transmission

When sending data from one point to another, the information is not all sent at once. More often than not, there are large chunks of information which will not successfully transmit in one piece. At this point, the data is broken up into smaller segments and then sent across the network. Every segment consists of a part of the data which resides among other information traveling at a particular Mbps.

With switches, like an ethernet switch, your data takes on the form of a frame. The frame has the destination and source information, which the switch then sends along its path.

On the other hand, routers have the information stored in a packet. These packets move across your wi-fi network, for example. It contains the source and destination IP information, so the traffic moves directly to where it needs to go according to the wi-fi speeds.

Networking can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. One sure way to get a better grasp on understanding your network is to know the difference between your router and your switch.

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