What is a Router, and How Does it Work? The Beginner Guide

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Routers are the most common networking device that allows communication between the home network and the internet.

Moreover, as the name implies, a router routes the traffic between the device and the internet.

With the help of the right router, you can able to enjoy faster internet service. And secure your devices from cyber threats.

When the router is used with the modem as a combo in home and small networks, it is called a residential gateway.

What is a Router?

The router establishes connection and communication between your home devices and the internet.

Moreover, the router takes data packets from the devices in a network and directs (route) them to the right destination.

Similarly, the received information from the internet will go back to the devices that have requested it.

The router works on behalf of your devices to send and request information to and from the internet.

When you send any information, the router will first inspect the data packets and read the destination IP address.

It will further calculate the shortest path to reach the destination accordingly.

A router is also known as a common type of gateway positioned itself in the meeting point of two or more networks on the internet.

In the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model, routers come under the network layer (Layer 3).

What is the purpose of the router?

The purpose of the router is to send and receive information in computer networks.

In networking, you will find the router to be either physical or virtual. The functionality of both physical and virtual routers is the same.

You will find a virtual router installed and running on commodity servers.

It is either kept alone or packaged with other utilities that are too virtual, like firewall, load balancing, and wide-area network optimization (WAN).

The other networking device, such as switches and wireless access points, may also have built-in router functionality.

The router’s other function is to maintain the security that stops any intrusion into a network.

Furthermore, the router also acts as a DHCP server, whose work is to assign an IP address to all the network devices.

You can connect your devices with a router either directly or may require drivers, depending on the type of connection you have.

How do routers work?

When you look for any information, such as a website from your browser, you request information from the website server.

Your requested data packets will first reach your router. The router will first read the information and send the data packets to the modem for processing.

After receiving the data packets, the modem will first convert the digital data into an analog signal and then transfer it over cable or telephone wire.

Further, the data packets will first reach the destination router, and the router will read the requested information and forward it to the destination server.

When the destination server processes the request, it will first send it to the destination router, and then it will reach your home network.

In a home network, firstly, the modem will process the data packets by converting them to the format your device will understand.

Later, your router will route the requested data packet back to your computer, which has initiated the request.

The whole process will happen in a fraction of a second.

That’s how your router participates in communication with the internet.

Types of routers

Typically, there are two different types of routers:

Wireless routers

A wireless router uses radio waves to connect with your devices in your home network.

It operates at a distance of 90 meters or 300 ft by using built-in antennas.

Further, one port of your wireless router is connected with a modem by a cable. This will allow the router to send or receive information to and from the internet.

Wired routers

The wired routers use Ethernet wire to connect with devices in a network directly.

Moreover, one port is available to connect with a modem so that you can access the internet.

And, other port or ports of the router is used to connect with computer or other devices, so that it can distribute the information.

How routers route data packets?

Routing is a process in which the IP packets – data packets that contain IP address – is forwarded from one network to another network.

A router contains at least two Network Interface Card (NIC) to connect with networks.

Analyzing data packets

The routers’ first step is to analyze and figure out the shortest and fastest path to sent data between networks.

It uses the “metric value,” or we can say that the preference number to determine the fastest path.

It will choose the lowest “metric value” for the fastest route if there are several available paths.

The metric value is stored in the routing table.

What is the routing table, and how does it work?

A routing table is a list of the possible path in your network stored in your router.

When the router receives data packets from a device in a network, it will first examine the IP packets.

The router will then look for the destination IP address and search for the routing table’s possible path.

Understanding of routing table will help you determine the reason behind the lost or discarded packets.

It will also troubleshoot the forwarding rules and any networking issues.

What is the difference between a router and a modem?

A router is used to connect multiple devices in a network, whereas a modem brings the internet to your home by connecting with ISP.

The modem received the analog signal from telephone lines and converted it into a digital signal, which your device can understand.

It will further forward the signal to a router attached to it to reach the devices in a network.

How to choose a router?

Most routers are available as a combo of router and modem, which is also called a gateway.

The internet service providers (ISP) may provide you free with the package or charge some subscription fee.

It may be possible that the router provided is not the best fit for your home network. So, you may consider buying one.

For this, you can look for some essential features of routers.

Look for Wi-Fi coverage.

Wi-Fi signals are the most important feature when you want to connect multiple devices to the internet.

But, the Wi-Fi signal will get disturbed or depend on the obstacles in the path.

If you have a thick wall, mirror, or fireplaces, it may weaken the Wi-Fi signal.

Also, if you are out of the coverage area, you may not catch the signal.

So, look for the capabilities of the router that will reach the far corner of the room.

Routers with mesh networks have the extended capabilities to reach corners of the home.

Look for router performance.

Router performance largely depends on router firmware, whether it can be updated to the latest technology or not.

One such new technology is the Mu-MIMO, which stands for multi-user, multi-input, multi-output technology.

This new technology will allow devices to connect simultaneously, which decreases wait time and improves network speed.

Look for Router security.

Router security features are essential to protect your devices from cyber attacks.

It will install malware and viruses and access your personal and financial information through a cyberattack.

The router with built-in security features like a firewall will help you protect from any intrusion.

Look for Router controls.

The control feature of the router is significant to manage your router easily.

It will help you install and update software, create a guest network, manage parental controls, and specify user time limits.


Understanding the router and how it works is important to set up a new router or upgrade your existing router.

You will come to know whether the installed router is meeting your need or not. And, it helps you to understand all the working features of the router.