What Is a Router and How Does It Work?

Everything to know about setting up your residential gateway

The router, at least the common home network device that is usually called a router, is the piece of network hardware that allows communication between your local home network—like your personal computers and other connected devices—and the internet.

The router used in home and small networks is more accurately called a residential gateway, but you'll never see these devices called that.


What Is a Router and How Does it Work?

What Is a Router For?

A router is the first line of security from intrusion into a network. Enabling the highest level of security on the router turns on things like the firewall, and is the best way to keep your computer system and information safe from attack.

Routers contain software called firmware that should be updated as released by the router manufacturer.

Most routers connect to other network devices only with network cables and don't require drivers to operate in Windows or other operating systems. However, routers that connect to a computer with a USB or FireWire typically require drivers to operate correctly.

Routers often act as the DHCP servers in small networks, issuing unique IP addresses.

Most routers are manufactured by companies like Linksys, 3Com, Belkin, D-Link, Motorola, TRENDnet, and Cisco, but there are many others.

Routers come in many shapes and sizes, as you can see below:

ASUS router
Netgear router
eero router
Netgear router
TP-LINK router
TP-LINK router

How Routers Work

Routers connect a modem—like a fiber, cable, or DSL modem—to other devices to allow communication between those devices and the internet. Most routers, including wireless routers, usually feature several network ports to connect numerous devices to the internet simultaneously.

A router typically connects physically, using a network cable, to the modem via the internet or WAN port and then physically, again through a network cable, to the network interface card in whatever wired network devices you have. A wireless router can connect using various wireless standards to devices that also support the particular standard used.

Although these devices are used in the same context, modems and routers are different devices, though there are cable modem/router combos.

The IP address assigned to the WAN or internet connection is a public IP address. The IP address assigned to the local network connection is a private IP address. The private IP address assigned to a router is usually the default gateway for the various devices on the network.

Wireless routers, and wired routers with multiple connections, also act as simple network switches allowing the devices to communicate with each other. For example, several computers connected to a router can be configured to share files and printers among each other.

Routers are like small computers, with a CPU and memory to deal with incoming and outgoing data. Different software, such as DD-WRT, can be loaded on the router, much like an operating system on a computer.

A router operates on the Network layer (layer 3) of the OSI model and uses routing tables to understand where traffic is coming from and where it should go.

Managing a Router

There will most likely come a time where you need to make changes to how your network works. This is done by accessing the software on the router.

A few reasons you need to connect to your home router as an administrator might be if you want to:

Some other common tasks related to managing a router involve restarting the router and completely resetting the home network router's software.

Buying a Router

There are several things to consider before picking the right wireless router, such as how fast it needs to be to support your internet speed and devices, as well as its power to ensure that all your devices can receive internet access.

For example, maybe you're buying a Wi-Fi router to serve lots of devices, like gaming consoles, computers, tablets, and phones. If your house is small, you might be able to get away with one router, whereas larger homes or businesses with several rooms might be better off with a mesh network or a range extender.

See these best-of lists if you're having trouble deciding on a new router:

Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots are similar to routers because they connect multiple devices to the same internet connection.

  • What is my IP address for my router?

    Different devices and operating systems vary in their steps to finding a router's IP address. In Windows, type Command Prompt in the search bar > Enter > type ipconfig in the command line > Enter. The router's IP address displays next to Default Gateway.

  • How can I open ports on my router?

    To open a port for video games and other programs—first, you'll need to set up a static IP address, then log in to your router as an admin and set up port forwarding. Port forwarding is the official term for opening a port.

  • How do you reset a NETGEAR router?

    Straighten one end of a paper clip, then press it inside the tiny hole in the back of your NETGEAR router for about seven seconds. Wait 30 more seconds before logging into the router with the username and password found on the bottom of the router. Resetting the NETGEAR router will restore all default settings and remove all custom settings.

  • How do you log in to a NETGEAR router?

    To log in to a NETGEAR router, go to routerlogin.net > enter the username and password for your router.

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