What is a Router?

A router is a device that forwards data packets along networks. A router is connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its ISP's network. Routers are located at gateways, the places where two or more networks connect, and are the critical device that keeps data flowing between networks and keeps the networks connected to the Internet. When data is sent between locations on one network or from one network to a second network the data is always seen and directed to the correct location by the router. They accomplish his by using headers and forwarding tables to determine the best path for forwarding the data packets, and they use protocols such as ICMP to communicate with each other and configure the best route between any two hosts.

The Internet itself is a global network connecting millions of computers and smaller networks — so you can see how crucial the role of a router is to our way of communicating and computing.

Why Would I Need a Router?

For most home users, they may want to set-up a LAN (local Area Network) or WLAN (wireless LAN) and connect all computers to the Internet without having to pay a full broadband subscription service to their ISP for each computer on the network. In many instances, an ISP will allow you to use a router and connect multiple computers to a single Internet connection and pay a nominal fee for each additional computer sharing the connection. This is when home users will want to look at smaller routers, often called broadband routers that enable two or more computers to share an Internet connection. Within a business or organization, you may need to connect multiple computers to the Internet, but also want to connect multiple private networks — and these are the types of functions a router is designed for.

Routers for Home & Small Business

Not all routers are created equal since their job will differ slightly from network to network. Additionally, you may look at a piece of hardware and not even realize it is a router. What defines a router is not its shape, color, size or manufacturer, but its job function of routing data packets between computers. A cable modem which routes data between your PC and your ISP can be considered a router. In its most basic form, a router could simply be one of two computers running the Windows 98 (or higher) operating system connected together using ICS (Internet Connection Sharing). In this scenario, the computer that is connected to the Internet is acting as the router for the second computer to obtain its Internet connection.

Going a step up from ICS, we have a category of hardware routers that are used to perform the same basic task as ICS, albeit with more features and functions. Often called broadband or Internet connection sharing routers, these routers allow you to share one Internet connection between multiple computers.

source: http://www.webopedia.com

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