What Are Ethernet Crossover Cables?

When You (Or Your Network) Needs a Crossover Cable

Ethernet Internet Cables.
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A crossover cable, occasionally called crossed cable, connects two Ethernet network devices to each other. They were created to support temporary host-to-host networking in situations where an intermediate device like a network router is not present.

Crossover cables look almost identical to ordinary, straight through (or patch) Ethernet cables until their internal wiring structures are compared.

Crossover vs Straight Through Cable

A normal, patch cable is used to connect different types of devices together, like a computer to a network switch.

A crossover cable does the opposite - it connects two devices of the same type.

A patch cable's ends can be wired in any way so long as both ends are identical. Compared to straight through Ethernet cables, the internal wiring of a crossover cable reverses the transmit and receive signals.

The reversed color-coded wires can be seen through the RJ-45 connectors at each end of the cable:

  • Standard cables have an identical sequence of colored wires on each end
  • Crossover cables have the first and third wires (counting from left to right) crossed, and the second and sixth wires crossed

A good Ethernet crossover cable will be specially marked to distinguish it from straight through ones. Many are red in color and also have "crossover" stamped on its packaging and wire casing.

Do You Need a Crossover Cable?

Crossover cables were commonly used by Information Technology (IT) professionals in the 1990s and 2000s since the popular forms of Ethernet at that time did not support direct cable connections between hosts.

Both the original and Fast Ethernet standards were designed to use specific wires for both the transmit and receive signals. These standards required the two endpoints to communicate through an intermediate device to avoid conflicts from trying to use the same wires for both transmit and receive.

A feature of Ethernet called MDI-X provides the necessary auto-detection support to prevent these signal conflicts.

It allows the Ethernet interface to automatically determine which signaling convention the device on the other end of the cable expects, and negotiates use of the transmit and receive wires accordingly. Note that only one end of a connection needs to support auto-detection for this feature to work.

Most home broadband routers (even older models) incorporated MDI-X support on their Ethernet interfaces. Gigabit Ethernet also adopted MDI-X as a standard.

Crossover cables are only needed when connecting two Ethernet client devices where neither is configured for Gigabit Ethernet. Modern Ethernet devices now automatically detect the use of crossover cables and work with them seamlessly.

How to Use Ethernet Crossover Cables

Crossover cables should only be used for direct network connections. For the reason described above, attempting to connect a computer to an old router or network switch with a crossover cable instead of a normal cable, can prevent the link from functioning.

These cables can be specially purchased through various electronics outlets. Hobbyists and some IT professionals might prefer to make their own crossover cables instead.

A straight-through cable can be relatively quickly converted into a crossover cable by removing the connector and reattaching the wires with the appropriate transmit and receive wires crossed.