In a telecommunications network, a switch is a device that channels incoming data from any of multiple input ports to the specific output port that will take the data toward its intended destination. In the traditional circuit-switched telephone network, one or more switches are used to set up a dedicated though temporary connection or circuit for an exchange between two or more parties. On an Ethernet local area network (LAN), a switch determines from the physical device (
In the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) communications model, a switch performs the layer 2 or Data-Link layer function. That is, it simply looks at each packet or data unit and determines from a physical address (the "MAC address") which device a data unit is intended for and switches it out toward that device. However, in wide area networks such as the Internet, the destination address requires a look-up in a routing table by a device known as a router. Some newer switches also perform routing functions (layer 3 or the Network layer functions in OSI) and are sometimes called
On larger networks, the trip from one switch point to another in the network is called a hop. The time a switch takes to figure out where to forward a data unit is called its latency. The price paid for having the flexibility that switches provide in a network is this latency. Switches are found at the backbone and gateway levels of a network where one network connects with another and at the subnetwork level where data is being forwarded close to its destination or origin. The former are often known as core switches and the latter as desktop switches.
In the simplest networks, a switch is not required for messages that are sent and received within the network. For example, a local area network may be organized in a Token Ring or bus arrangement in which each possible destination inspects each message and reads any message with its address.
Circuit-Switching version Packet-SwitchingA network's paths can be used exclusively for a certain duration by two or more parties and then switched for use to another set of parties. This type of "switching" is known as circuit-switching and is really a dedicated and continuously connected path for its duration. Today, an ordinary voice phone call generally uses circuit-switching. Most data today is sent, using digital signals, over networks that use packet-switching. Using packet-switching, all network users can share the same paths at the same time and the particular route a data unit travels can be varied as conditions change. In packet-switching, a message is divided into packets, which are units of a certain number of bytes. The network addresses of the sender and of the destination are added to the packet. Each network point looks at the packet to see where to send it next. Packets in the same message may travel different routes and may not arrive in the same order that they were sent. At the destination, the packets in a message are collected and reassembled into the original message.
In packet-switched networks such as the Internet, a router is a device or, in some cases, software in a computer, that determines the next network point to which a packet should be forwarded toward its destination. The router is connected to at least two networks and decides which way to send each information packet based on its current understanding of the state of the networks it is connected to. A router is located at any gateway (where one network meets another), including each point-of-presence on the Internet. A router is often included as part of a network switch.
A router may create or maintain a table of the available routes and their conditions and use this information along with distance and cost algorithms to determine the best route for a given packet. Typically, a packet may travel through a number of network points with routers before arriving at its destination. Routing is a function associated with the Network layer (layer 3) in the standard model of network programming, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. A
An edge router is a router that interfaces with an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network. A brouter is a network bridge combined with a router.
For home and business computer users who have high-speed Internet connections such as cable, satellite, or DSL, a router can act as a hardware firewall. This is true even if the home or business has only one computer. Many engineers believe that the use of a router provides better protection against hacking than a software firewall, because no computer
A gateway is a network point that acts as an entrance to another network. On the Internet, a node or stopping point can be either a gateway node or a host (end-point) node. Both the computers of Internet users and the computers that serve pages to users are host nodes. The computers that control traffic within your company's network or at your local Internet service provider (ISP) are gateway nodes.
In the network for an enterprise, a computer server acting as a gateway node is often also acting as a proxy server and a firewall server. A gateway is often associated with both a router, which knows where to direct a given packet of data that arrives at the gateway, and a switch, which furnishes the actual path in and out of the gateway for a given packet.
In general, a hub is the central part of a wheel where the spokes come together. The term is familiar to frequent fliers who travel through airport "hubs" to make connecting flights from one point to another. In data communications, a hub is a place of convergence where data arrives from one or more directions and is forwarded out in one or more other directions. A hub usually includes a switch of some kind. (And a product that is called a "switch" could usually be considered a hub as well.) The distinction seems to be that the hub is the place where data comes together and the switch is what determines how and where data is forwarded from the place where data comes together. Regarded in its switching aspects, a hub can also include a router.
1) In describing network topologies, a hub
2) As a network product, a hub may include a group of modem cards for dial-in users, a gateway card for connections to a local area network (for example, an Ethernet or a Token Ring), and a connection to a
A brouter (pronounced BRAU-tuhr or sometimes BEE-rau-tuhr) is a network bridge and a router combined in a single product. A bridge is a device that connects one local area network (LAN) to another local area network that uses the same protocol (for example, Ethernet or Token Ring). If a data unit on one LAN is intended for a destination on an interconnected LAN, the bridge forwards the data unit to that LAN; otherwise, it passes it along on the same LAN. A bridge usually offers only one path to a given interconnected LAN. A router connects a network to one or more other networks that are usually part of a wide area network (WAN) and may offer a number of paths out to destinations on those networks. A router therefore needs to have more information than a bridge about the interconnected networks. It consults a routing table for this information. Since a given outgoing data unit or packet from a computer may be intended for an address on the local network, on an interconnected LAN, or the wide area network, it makes sense to have a single unit that examines all data units and forwards them appropriately.