What is the difference between network switches and routers?

While a device can incorporate both a switch and router and have similar functions, the former creates networks and links clients while routers merely connects networks. Routers are linked to at least two networks, which they recognise, and forward packets/messages between them judging by IP addresses. Hence, they "route" traffic between networks. Switches on the other hand were named as such as they are part of a "switched network", which selects links to transmit frames or packets to their destinations - in contrast to original ethernet networks where all nodes shared a coaxial cable to broadcast with. Switches also contrast with hubs (which are rarely if ever used anymore), that merely repeat ethernet frames to each link.

Referring to the traditional OSI model, switches work on the level 2 (data link layer) so they may only process ethernet frames and MAC addresses, while some are also level 3 (network layer) and deal with IP. Routers are always level 3 "aware". Level 2 switches are commonly used in datacentres, mostly access switches connecting servers together to a level 2 and 3 core or aggregation switch and router. Being cheaper and having less processing resources makes them more efficient for common but basic traffic forwarding, so the IP processing gets delegated to the fewer but more powerful "higher up" network devices. It's important to remember "router vs. switch" mainly refers to purpose and software - routers and switches would both have hardware and deal with layer 1 (physical layer) outside the scope.

Domestic users are likely to only use small level 3 switches and router-switch hybrids.

Last update on 2023-04-08 by DNC admin.

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