Hubs, Switches and Routers

Category: Networking

Many people wonder what the difference is between a networking hub, switch, and router. Some people don't know and don't want to know. But if you need to know, here is what you need to know...

Network switch Hubs, switches, and routers are all electronic black boxes that let you connect computers and other devices in a network. In classic hardwired networking, each type of black box has two or more cable connectors into which you plug wires that physically connect devices. The wires can be of different types: Ethernet, serial, USB, etc. But Ethernet is by far the most common cable. The hub, switch, or router allows devices connected to it to communicate with one another in a network. This type of networking allows for files and folders to be shared by multiple computers, and also allows the sharing of printers and other devices. class="imgmain" />

Hub, Switch, Router - What's the Difference?

The difference between hubs, switches, and routers lies in how much they control such communication.

A hub does not exert much control. It just accepts whatever data any device sends into it and broadcasts that data to every other device connected to it. A hub is simple and easy to set up for a small peer-to-peer network, or local area network (LAN). But a hub generates a lot of unnecessary data "chatter". Computer A may not need to know what computer B is sending to computer C, but the hub tells it anyway.

A switch is a little smarter than a hub. It "knows" which devices are connected to which ports. It keeps track of the addresses of all devices and delivers to each device only data that is addressed to it. This smart addressing cuts down on network traffic and increases the speed at which data is delivered to where it needs to be. Switches are intelligent but still fairly simple. They don't slow down data flow by "thinking" too much.

What is a Router?

Routers are the most complex of the three networking devices. A router includes the local networking features of a hub or switch, plus the ability to manage a connection to the Internet. A router is essentially a full-blown computer in its own right, programmable and complex in its firmware or operating system. A router can manipulate and change data, not just receive and send it.

This intelligence gives routers the ability to run firewalls, for example, which "hide" one or more devices from others on the network. Firewalls based in routers are primary lines of defense against bad guys out there on the Internet. If the bad guy can't find your computer behind a firewall then he can't hack his way into it. Firewall protection is just one example of what routers can do. The ability to act as a Network Address Translator (NAT) , a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server, and a Domain Name Service (DNS) server are other features that you can explore on your own. Some routers even have wireless access points built into them.

Typically, routers are used on the "edge" of a home or office network, connecting it to the great wide word via the Internet or a private Wide Area Network (WAN). In fact, you may see the label "WAN" on the port on the back of your router; that's where you plug in the cable that connects the router to the Internet.

In summary, a hub is a simple device that can connect computers or devices on a network, a switch is a smart hub with the ability to route network traffic more efficiently, and a router does all that plus manages connections to multiple networks and the Internet.

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Most recent comments on "Hubs, Switches and Routers"

Posted by:

18 Dec 2009

This is a very helpfull one Bob I have been in my router and turned off wireless and I think it is secure but with your guide I will go back in and check just to make sure. I like the ipconfig command I have always had to search for the ip address of a router.

I think you could write a whole article on useful command prompt commands.

Thanks for your always interesting news letters.

Posted by:

18 Dec 2009

Agree with Sandy re useful shell commands, eg, I just learned of msconfig but am uncertain of how to use the info.

Your newsletter always contains something useful.

Posted by:

18 Dec 2009

Is there a way to determine whether my router has a firewall?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Almost all do. You can login to the router and look through the settings to verify.

Posted by:

20 Dec 2009

Now if I could only get my computer, with two operation systems on it, to get AT&T to let ThunderBird, with two address, send and receive e-mails reliably

Posted by:

Doug Heckman
23 Dec 2009

Bob, I agree with the above complimentary comments about your always praise-worthy information.

In this case, (hub, switch, and router), it would seem to me that some application examples would be useful. Many of us only have experience with a single router serving our home or small business machines. And for many of us, that is enough.

But there may be some easy instances where a switch would be useful in a remote upstairs or out in the garage location if connected via Ethernet cable and locally serving multiple devices. I admit I've thought about daisy-chaining two or more routers to perform that type of function, and then beat my brains out trying to make the second router only behave like a switch.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I agree, the example of adding a switch to a remote location, in order to provide network/internet access to more than one computer, is a good one.

Posted by:

Ben J.
30 Jan 2011

I have a question about routers - if I'm using a wired connection, to my laptop, is there any possible way of hiding my MAC Address using a router? Does it do it automatically, or do I have to manually select the settings for it to do that? I appreciate your help, in advance. Thanks!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Who do you want to hide your MAC address from, and why?

Posted by:

Ben J.
02 Feb 2011

Hey Bob, in response to your question, "EDITOR'S NOTE: Who do you want to hide your MAC address from, and why?", I want to keep my address from being "stored" (or cached) by "third party advertisers, so I won't keep getting unwanted ads. Is this a smart thing to do? - Ben J.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The MAC address is not transmitted outside your local network, so hiding it would have no effect on the ads you see. Blocking cookies might have better effect, but that also prevents some very useful features from working on lots of websites.

Posted by:

15 Feb 2011

Hi BOB, thanx for sharing ur knowledge with us,
i dont know much about LAN, NETWORKS, system administation, please suggest me some tutorial..,

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