A router is a device that forwards data packets between computer networks, creating an overlay internetwork.
A router is connected to two or more data lines from different
networks. When a data packet comes in on one of the lines, the router
reads the address information in the packet to determine its ultimate
destination. Then, using information in its routing table or routing policy, it directs the packet to the next network on its journey. Routers perform the "traffic directing" functions on the Internet.
A data packet is typically forwarded from one router to another through
the networks that constitute the internetwork until it gets to its
The most familiar type of routers are home and small office routers that simply pass data, such as web pages and email, between the home computers and the owner's cable or DSL modem, which connects to the Internet through an ISP. More sophisticated routers, such as enterprise routers, connect large business or ISP networks up to the powerful core routers that forward data at high speed along the optical fiber lines of the Internet backbone.
When multiple routers are used in interconnected networks, the
routers exchange information about destination addresses, using a
dynamic routing protocol. Each router builds up a table listing the
preferred routes between any two systems on the interconnected networks.
A router has interfaces for different physical types of network
connections, (such as copper cables, fiber optic, or wireless
transmission). It also contains firmware for different networking protocol
standards. Each network interface uses this specialized computer
software to enable data packets to be forwarded from one protocol
transmission system to another.
Routers may also be used to connect two or more logical groups of computer devices known as subnets, each with a different sub-network address. The subnets addresses recorded in the router do not necessarily map directly to the physical interface connections A router has two stages of operation called planes
- Control plane:
A router records a routing table listing what route should be used to
forward a data packet, and through which physical interface connection.
It does this using internal pre-configured addresses, called static
- Forwarding plane:
The router forwards data packets between incoming and outgoing
interface connections. It routes it to the correct network type using
information that the packet header contains. It uses data recorded in the routing table control plane.
Routers may provide connectivity within enterprises, between enterprises and the Internet, and between internet service providers (ISPs) networks. The largest routers (such as the Cisco CRS-1 or Juniper T1600) interconnect the various ISPs, or may be used in large enterprise networks
Smaller routers usually provide connectivity for typical home and
office networks. Other networking solutions may be provided by a
backbone Wireless Distribution System (WDS), which avoids the costs of introducing networking cables into buildings.
All sizes of routers may be found inside enterprises
The most powerful routers are usually found in ISPs, academic and
research facilities. Large businesses may also need more powerful
routers to cope with ever increasing demands of intranet data traffic. A three-layer model is in common use, not all of which need be present in smaller networks
Access routers, including 'small office/home office' (SOHO) models,
are located at customer sites such as branch offices that do not need hierarchical routing
of their own. Typically, they are optimized for low cost. Some SOHO
routers are capable of running alternative free Linux-based firmwares
like Tomato, OpenWrt or DD-WRT
Distribution routers aggregate traffic from multiple access routers,
either at the same site, or to collect the data streams from multiple
sites to a major enterprise location. Distribution routers are often
responsible for enforcing quality of service across a WAN,
so they may have considerable memory installed, multiple WAN interface
connections, and substantial onboard data processing routines. They may
also provide connectivity to groups of file servers or other external
External networks must be carefully considered as part of the overall security strategy. Separate from the router may be a firewall or VPN
handling device, or the router may include these and other security
functions. Many companies produced security-oriented routers, including
Cisco Systems' PIX and ASA5500 series, Juniper's Netscreen, Watchguard's
Firebox, Barracuda's variety of mail-oriented devices, and many others.
In enterprises, a core router
may provide a "collapsed backbone" interconnecting the distribution
tier routers from multiple buildings of a campus, or large enterprise
locations. They tend to be optimized for high bandwidth, but lack some
of the features of Edge Routers
Internet connectivity and internal use
Routers intended for ISP and major enterprise connectivity usually exchange routing information using the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). RFC 4098 standard defines the types of BGP-protocol routers according to the routers' functions: