How Is a Router Different From a Switch?

All the key differences between routers and switches you need to know

Routers and switches are two common network components that help connect computers together both locally and remotely. Routers and switches have a number of similarities, but they’re used in different ways. The purpose of a router is to let you connect multiple devices to a single internet connection, and also create a local area network (LAN) at the same time, while switches only connect devices locally.

In a typical home network setup, you could have multiple computers and other devices connected to a switch, the switch connected to a router, and the router connected to a modem through the router's wide area network (WAN) port. Small home networks can function without a switch by just connecting devices directly to the router’s LAN ports and Wi-Fi network, while business and school networks often have multiple switches.

A router and a networking switch.

Overall Findings

Router
  • Used to connect a local network to the internet.

  • A network usually only has one router.

  • Connects to a modem through a WAN port.

  • Can have both wired and wireless connectivity.

Switch
  • Used within networks to connect devices.

  • A network may contain several switches all connected to one router.

  • Only has LAN ports.

  • No wireless connectivity.


Routers are used to connect local devices to each other and to the internet, while switches are only used to connect devices together locally. Switches can also be connected to routers, allowing many devices to connect to a router through a wired connection even if a router only has a single Ethernet LAN port.

While a network usually only has one router, you can connect a secondary router to your primary router, in which case it will function as a switch. However, you may need to change some configurations on the secondary router and disable it’s Wi-Fi network if it has one.

How Are Routers and Switches Used?

Router
  • Connects to a modem via a WAN port.

  • Also creates a local network between connected devices.

  • Connects to the internet.

  • Splits one internet connection to many devices.

  • Connects local devices to each other and the internet.

Switch
  • Connects to a router.

  • Used within a LAN to connect devices to each other and to the router.

  • Unsafe to connect directly to the internet.

  • Several switches can be connected to one router.

  • Only connects local devices to each other.


In a typical network, a router is connected to a modem via its WAN port, and then local devices are connected to the router via Ethernet LAN ports or Wi-Fi. The primary function of the router is to connect all of the local devices to the internet, but it’s also able to connect local devices together as well. For example, if you connect a router to a modem and two computers, the computers will be able to access the internet and also connect to each other to exchange data locally.

Switches are used to expand and optimize a wired LAN by allowing more devices to connect to a local network and optimizing the transmission of data between devices. When a network includes a switch, the switch is connected to the router via an Ethernet LAN port, and then local devices are connected to the switch. Large networks, like those found in businesses and schools, often have many switches that connect smaller groups of computers and other devices to each other and to other switches and the devices that are connected to those switches.

What Is the Main Difference Between a Switch and a Router?

Router
  • Designed to connect to the internet and local devices.

  • Can be wired and wireless.

  • Can include security features like a firewall and parental controls.

  • Can connect multiple devices to one internet connection.

Switch
  • Designed to connect to a router and local devices.

  • Can only be wired.

  • No security features.

  • No WAN port, and no way to connect multiple devices to one internet connection.


The biggest difference between routers and switches is that routers are designed to connect networks, while switches are designed to connect devices within a network. Routers can connect to both the internet and local devices, while switches are only meant to connect local devices. You could technically use a switch in place of a router to create a LAN and connect it to the internet, but it would require additional configuration, wouldn’t work as well, and would lack vital security features.

Another difference is that routers can include both wireless and wired connectivity, while switches only have Ethernet LAN ports and can’t create or connect to Wi-Fi networks. So while you can use a switch to create a LAN that networks local devices together without a router, the devices would all have to be connected by physical Ethernet cables, and you wouldn’t be able to effectively share an internet connection between all of the devices without connecting the switch to a router.

What Is the Difference Between Routing and Switching?

Routing is a term that refers to transferring data between networks, while packet switching is a term that refers to transferring data within a network. Routers route data with the help of an IP lookup table, sending the data to the appropriate IP address. Switches receive data packets from one locally-networked device, switch it to the appropriate network port with the help of a MAC address lookup table, and send it along to another locally-networked device.

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between a Router and a Switch?

Routers and switches have a number of similarities, because they’re both networking devices. In business settings, there are even expensive, complicated switches that are capable of routing, and all routers are capable of switching.

On a surface level, you can see just by looking at routers and switches that they both have Ethernet LAN ports, although switches typically have more of these than routers. Switches and routers are also both capable of connecting local devices over a LAN, while wireless routers add the ability to connect devices over Wi-Fi as well.

The most important similarity between routers and switches is that, in a typical home network, the router functions as both a router and a switch. If you connect all of your devices to a router, and you have no switch in your system, then data sent between your local devices is handled by the router in the same way it would be if the devices were connected by a switch.

The most important difference between routers and switches is that switches are only designed to network local devices together, while routers are designed to create a local network and connect it to the internet with the help of a modem.

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