Basic Networking Devices in Layman`s Terms - Switches and Routers
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The most distinctive advantage of switches compared to the traditional hubs is that they are able to remember if and whether a packet goes from machine A to machine B, and understand that the likelihood of this to repeat once again somewhere in the future is high. Switches will “switch” and transmit only the required data. In the case of hubs, if A sends something, then each computer would receive it (A, B, C, D …etc.).
Switches are more efficient, and are excellent for creating LANs. The easiest way to imagine how a switch works is the following: the switch continuously monitors its ports. It is able to create virtual circuits between the ports. It works very fast. Now if computer B wants to send a packet to the laptop found on D, then the switch creates a virtual circuit (electronic connection) between these two. Data flows through fast.
Switches received their name because they act like ultra-fast network switches connecting the required computers between each other right before data travels and during its trip. Once it goes through, the virtual connection disappears. Switches can do this very, very fast. They are efficient because they don’t transmit an unnecessary amount of data to each of the computers connected, as hubs would.
However, switches are not able to connect computers from a LAN to the Internet. They aren't able to route the packets that intelligently back and forth from (and to) the computers and the Internet. Once again, a dedicated computer must be chosen to serve as a gateway, and an extra NIC must be added, and of course, the operating system must be configured (to act as a gateway). Throughout this gateway machine, the Internet is reachable from each and every system on the LAN.
All in all, switches are usually optimal only in the case of LANs or when a dedicated gateway is already present. We won’t get into the high-end enterprise switches here because they’d make things harder to understand. What we need to know is that they aren’t appropriate for our scenario of a home user with a number of computers which he wants to enable to connect to the Internet and each other.
What we need is an even more intelligent device that is able to understand and route the necessary packets back-and-forth and make the Internet available to each computer of the LAN. The keyword wasn’t italicized just for fun; it subliminally hints the solution. Yes, that’s right! Finally! The solution in this specific case is a router.
Routers of all kinds, from the cheapest budget versions up to the most expensive high-end enterprise machiness, sport the exact same characteristics. They are all able to do the same basic tasks, because what we need is the most basic task a router is able to do so. Surely, enterprise routers also have lots of advanced and complex functions, of which we don’t really need to know.
The most basic broadband routers have four ports. This is usually enough for home users. In those situations where wireless interaction is also required, then wireless routers are also available. They sport antennas (as shown in the image earlier) and, depending on the size of your home, your notebook shouldn’t struggle to connect.
What you need to know about routers is that they are highly configurable. Users can manipulate a multitude of options via some kind of user interface. Most of the cheapest broadband routers are configurable through a web graphical interface. The user plugs the computer into the router, powers it on, and points his or hew favorite web browser to the specified link (this can be found in the user manual). However, this address is usually one of these: 10.0.0.1, 192.168.0.1, 192.168.1.1, 192.168.2.1.
In a nutshell, routers are the most sophisticated networking devices in comparison with hubs and switches. They are able to look at the packets, determine where they are supposed to go, and then manipulate the connections to do so. They can interconnect multiple types of networks, such as LANs and WANs. The Internet, in our case, is a WAN.
Therefore, routers satisfy the needs of 99.99% of home users. Generally, routers destined for home environments are called broadband users. They do not have dozens of ports, nor do they sport ultra complex features (such as their own programming language to allow an ever higher-level configuration). Nowadays, fortunately, routers are very affordable. Most popular brands are also truly reliable and efficient.
Furthermore, almost all of the broadband routers for home use are also switches by themselves. So basically they transmit packets just as efficiently as switches -- but routers are even smarter and can deal with networks of different kinds (WANs and LANs). On top of everything, routers usually include functions such an integrated basic firewall, proxy, and DHCP support.
Finally, Wi-Fi wireless routers handle their activities based on access points. Access points, APs, are typically incorporated already in all wireless broadband routers. This means that you do not necessarily need extra access point devices, unless of course your network needs to be expanded.
Summing these up, routers are the most convenient devices when your home or small-business office must be connected to the Internet and between each other. Routers offer some basic level of protection as well due to their built-in firewalls, and most importantly, make the entire task very easy and straightforward.
Thanks to their DHCP support, routers figure out everything by themselves from the ISP. All that is left to do is to plug the computers into the router, power it on, and let the operating system manage everything automatically.
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