Many individuals do not understand the difference between a switch and router. At first glance, they appear to be similar as they both allow one or more computers to be on a network. In fact, they even look alike. However, they are quite different as they each serve their own, yet important, purpose.

A router and a switch both connect several computers together and they each have multiple ports in which cables are inserted to make connections. The main differences are the level of intelligence for each device, how they direct data, and the speed that they offer.

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Asus Router (pictured above)

A switch is a basically a smarter version of a hub. Briefly, a hub is a device that sends out one signal to all the devices that are connected to it. Regardless of who the message is for, all computers will receive the message if they are connected to the hub and they all will receive the response back. For example, let’s assume device A, B, and C are connected to a hub. If a message is meant for device B, device A and C will receive the initial message as well as the response from device B. A switch essentially does the same thing except it realizes where specific devices are located. Therefore, a message meant for device B will only be sent to device B and no other devices can see the response.

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Cisco Switch (pictured above)

A router performs the exact same functions as a switch, that is, it routes data to the specific devices but it is more advanced. Routers perform at least two additional tasks, DHCP and NAT. DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and it is the way that IP addresses are assigned. A device connected to the router asks for an IP address and it receives a specific IP address from the router. On the other hand, the router requests an IP address from the ISP (Internet Service Provider) and this is the IP address used on the internet and is not specific to a device but to the local address. Basically, a router receives the local address form the ISP and then assigns different IP addresses to each device connected to the network.

The second added feature of a router, NAT (Network Address Translation) is the way in which a router transmits data that passes through the router. Device A will have its own IP address that was assigned by the router, but when that data is sent out to the Internet, it will display the local address from the ISP and not the IP address of the individual device. The opposite occurs when data is to be sent to device A from the Internet and the router essentially serves as a firewall since some data may be blocked from reaching device A.

A switch normally offers a faster connection between two devices since it knows where each device is connected and it doesn’t have to send data to every device. Therefore, when data needs to be optimized and efficient, a switch would be well suited for such a scenario.