What Is a Default Gateway?

Definition of Default Gateway and How to Find The Device's IP Address

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A default gateway is used to allow devices in one network to communicate with devices in another network. If your computer, for example, is requesting an internet webpage, the request first runs through your default gateway before exiting the local network to reach the internet.

An easier way to understand a default gateway might be to think of it as an intermediate device between the local network and the internet.

It's necessary for transferring internal data out to the internet, and then back again.

So, the default gateway device passes traffic from the local subnet to devices on other subnets. The default gateway often connects the local network to the internet, although internal gateways for communication within a local network also exist.

Note: The word default in this term just means that it's the default device that's looked for when information needs to be sent through the network.

How Traffic Moves Through a Default Gateway

All the clients on a network point to a default gateway that should be used to route their traffic.

The default gateway on your home network, for example, understands certain routes that must be taken in order to move your internet requests from your computer out of your network and onto the next piece of equipment that can understand what needs to be done.

From there, the same process happens until your data eventually reaches its intended destination.

With each network that the traffic hits, that network's default gateway serves its own purpose in order to relay the information back out to the internet and ultimately back to your device that originally requested it.

If traffic is bound for other internal devices and not a device external to the local network, the default gateway is still used to understand the request, but instead of sending the data out of the network, it points it to the correct local device.

This is all understood based on the IP address that the originating device is requesting.

Types of Default Gateways

Internet default gateways are typically one of two types:

  • On home or small business networks with a broadband router to share the internet connection, the home router serves as the default gateway.
  • On home or small business networks without a router, such as for residences with dial-up internet access, a router at the internet service provider location serves as the default gateway.

Default network gateways can also be configured using an ordinary computer instead of a router. These gateways use two network adapters where one is connected to the local subnet and the other is connected to the outside network.

Either routers or gateway computers can be used to network local subnets such as those in larger businesses.

How to Find Your Default Gateway IP Address

You might need to know the IP address of the default gateway if there's a network problem or if you need to make changes to your router.

In Microsoft Windows, the IP address of a computer's default gateway can be accessed through Command Prompt with the ipconfig command, as well as through the Control Panel. The netstat and ip route commands are used on macOS and Linux for finding the default gateway address.

For more detailed OS-specific instructions on finding the default gateway, see How to Find Your Default Gateway IP Address.