The Difference Between a Network Switch and a Router

The Difference Between a Network Switch and a Router

When you use your computer on your home or office network, there’s a lot happening in the background. To connect to another device on your network and use the internet, you’re using two pieces of equipment: a switch and a router. But what do these devices do, and how are they different?

To explain router vs. switch, let’s clarify a few terms:

  • Local Area Network (LAN): A LAN connects multiple devices, users, and applications that are in close proximity to one another—usually within a single building. Your home and office networks are LANs.
  • Wide Area Network (WAN): A WAN connects different LANs that are dispersed or at a distance from one another. The internet is a WAN.
  • IP address: Every network-connected device has a unique identifier known as an IP address that lets it communicate and exchange information with other devices on the network.

Router vs. switch: What’s the difference?

The difference between a switch and a router fundamentally comes down to scale. A switch connects devices—computers, printers, and wireless access points, for example, that each have an IP address—on a single LAN. A router, meanwhile, connects multiple switches across LANs and links devices and users on the network to the internet while directing data traffic in and out.

For example, let’s say you work for a company that has multiple offices dispersed across the country. Devices in your building are probably part of a single LAN—or if your office is especially large, there may be several LANs. A router connects these LANs to each other as well as to the networks at other locations.

A router is faster and has a more complex functions than a switch, and they operate on different networking layers. But both make it possible for you to connect your devices to one another and the internet every day.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply