General Question

makemo's avatar

What is a router?

Asked by makemo (531points) January 18th, 2009

Ok, this is embarassing to ask.

But I never got the exact understanding of what a router is. I tried to read the Wikipedia definition, but the information was too dense.

So in simple and as few words as possible; what is it? Does everyone with an Internet connection have them? Is it the same as a firewall? Why do most people complain about problems with their “routers”? Etc.

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9 Answers

iwamoto's avatar

a router works pretty simple, network signal comes in, and distributes it over the network, the router itself maintains that network if you want to, because a router can be used as a DHCP server,

what that is ? think of it as a teacher giving every student a number connected to their seats, so he knows where they sitt, and other kids can look at the list too and see where the others sit (for passing notes etc)

a router and a switch are pretty similar, but a switch doesn’t have stuff like DHCP and just helps connect a lot more machines to a network

i hope that’s a bit clearer than wiki…

makemo's avatar

Reason why I came to wonder about this, was that I became curious in something called UPnP… but didn’t quite get where a router comes in or not, in the whole picture. :)

There’s this application for Mac, called Port Map …which I hope to have some use of, transfering files from home to work and vice versa.

jrpowell's avatar

Think of your internet connection as like having a telephone number. This number is unique to each to connection. So in my house we have DSL and we get a unique number for that. That is our IP address.

But we also have three computers that all need to use that same number. A router keeps track of requests and sends information back to the right computer. So if I ask for a webpage the router is smart enough to know to send it back to my computer instead of sending to my sisters.

If you only have one computer hooked up to your cable or DSL connection you don’t need a router. Some (most) routers have a built-in firewall.

makemo's avatar

johnpowell: (i’ll give you two Lurve for your answer(s)


Grisson's avatar

A router is a device that connects a ‘Wide Area Network’ (WAN) to a ‘Local Area Network’ (LAN).
In English: It connects and external network (The internet, your ISP, your company’s giant network) to an internal network (several PC’s in your home, your small business network, a few isolated computers at your work).

A router will have a port (or connection plug-in) labelled ‘WAN’ and several labeled ‘LAN’.

You can think of a router as a ‘star’ that distributes network traffic from a central connection to a bunch of other connectons.

In the process a router can also provide several other services such as:

* DHCP: assigning IP addresses (the numeric network address of each computer or device).

* DNS: looking up the names of other computers in the internet and converting to a numeric address.

* Gateway: The path through which your network traffic must go to get to get to the rest of the network (it almost has to do this).

* Firewall: Keeping other computers from getting to your computers.

makemo's avatar

Great answers, everyone. Now I feel enlightened enough to start talking about routers in public. :)

makemo's avatar

One last question, about what Grisson wrote:

I have a dynamic IP. Does that mean I’m using DHCP (in different ways than if having a static IP)?

Grisson's avatar

@makemo Dynamic IP address means you are using DHCP. Maybe from your router, maybe from your ISP, or maybe from your work Domain Controller (big computer server that acts like a router but does a bunch of other stuff).

makemo's avatar


Thanks again.

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