What is a Network Switch?

Photo of a Cisco SG300-28P Managed Switch
Cisco SG300-28P Managed Switch. © Cisco

A switch is a network hardware device that allows communication between devices within a network, like your local home network.

Most home and small business routers contain built-in switches.

The Switch is Also Known As

A switch is more correctly called a network switch though you'll rarely see one referred to as such. A switch is also uncommonly called a switching hub.

Important Switch Facts

Switches are found in both unmanaged and managed forms.

Unmanaged switches have no options and simply work out of box.

Managed switches have advanced options that can be configured. Managed switches also contain software called firmware that should be updated as released by the switch manufacturer.

Switches connect to other network devices via network cables only and thus do not require drivers to operate in Windows or other operating systems.

Popular Switch Manufacturers

Cisco, NETGEAR, HP, D-Link

Switch Description

Switches connect various network devices together, like computers, to allow communication between those devices. Switches feature several network ports, sometimes dozens, to connect numerous devices together.

Typically, a switch connects physically, via a network cable, to a router and then physically, again via a network cable, to the network interface cards in whatever network devices you may have.

Common Switch Tasks

Here are some common things you might do that involve a managed network switch:

  • Change a Switch's Password
  • Update a Switch's Firmware