What Are TCP/IP Router (Routing) Tables?

Router tables determine the destination of messages within a network

Linksys routing options

A router table (also called routing table) helps TCP/IP network routers to calculate the destination of the messages they are responsible for forwarding. A router table is a small in-memory database managed by the router's built-in hardware and software.

Router Table Entries and Sizes

Router tables contain a list of IP addresses. Each address in the list identifies a remote router or another network gateway that the local router is configured to recognize. For each IP address, the router table additionally stores a network mask and other data that specifies the destination IP address ranges that remote devices will accept.

Home network routers employ a very small router table because they simply forward all outbound traffic to the Internet Service Provider gateway, which takes care of all other routing steps. Home router tables typically contain ten or fewer entries. By comparison, the largest routers at the core of the internet backbone must maintain the full Internet routing table that contains several hundred thousand entries.

See the CIDR Report for the latest internet routing statistics.

Dynamic vs. Static Routing

Home routers set up their routing tables automatically when they connect to the internet provider, a process called dynamic routing. They generate one router table entry for each of the service provider's DNS servers (primary, secondary, and tertiary, if available) and one entry for routing among all the home computers. They may also generate a few additional routes for other special cases including multicast and broadcast routes.

Some residential network routers prevent you from manually overriding or changing the router table. However, business routers allow network administrators to manually update or manipulate routing tables. This so-called static routing can be useful when optimizing for network performance and reliability. On a home network, the use of static routers is not required except in unusual circumstances (such as when you establish several subnetworks and a second router).

Viewing the Contents of Routing Tables

On home broadband routers, routing table contents are typically shown on a screen inside the administrative console. An example IPv4 table is shown below.

Destination LAN IP Subnet Mask Gateway Interface xx.yyy.86.1 WAN (Internet)
xx.yyy.86.1 xx.yyy.86.1 WAN (Internet)
xx.yyy.86.134 xx.yyy.86.134 WAN (Internet) LAN & Wireless
Routing Table Entry List (Example)

In this example, the first two entries represent routes to the internet provider's gateway address (xx and yyy represent real IP address values that are hidden for the purpose of this example). The third entry represents the route to the home router's public-facing IP address assigned by the provider. The last entry represents the route for all computers within the home network to the home router, where the router has IP address

On Windows and Unix/Linux computers, the netstat -r command displays the contents of the router table configured on the local computer.

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