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Cisco 1800 Router
Cisco 7600 Series Multilayer Switches

A router, pronounced /ˈraʊtər/ in the United States and Canada, and /ˈruːtər/ in the UK, Australia, and Ireland (to differentiate it from the tool used to rout wood), is a purposely customized computer used to forward data among computer networks beyond directly connected devices. (The directly connected devices are said to be in LAN, where data are forwarded using Network switches.)

More technically, a router is a networking device whose software and hardware [in combination] are customized to the tasks of routing and forwarding information. A router differs from an ordinary computer in that it needs special hardware, called interface cards, to connect to remote devices through either copper cables or Optical fiber cable. These interface cards are in fact small computers that are specialized to convert electric signals from one from to another, with embedded CPU or ASIC, or both. In the case of optical fiber, the interface cards (also called ports) convert between optical signals and electrical signals.

Routers connect two or more logical subnets, which do not share a common network address. The subnets in the router do not necessarily map one-to-one to the physical interfaces of the router.[1] The term "layer 3 switching" is used often interchangeably with the term "routing". The term switching is generally used to refer to data forwarding between two network devices that share a common network address. This is also called layer 2 switching or LAN switching.

Conceptually, a router operates in two operational planes (or sub-systems):[2]

  • Control plane: where a router builds a table (called routing table) as how a packet should be forwarded through which interface, by using either statically configured statements (called statical routes) or by exchanging information with other routers in the network through a dynamical routing protocol;
  • Forwarding plane: where the router actually forwards the traffic (or called packets in IP protocol) from ingress (incoming) interfaces to an egress (outgoing) interface that is appropriate for the the destination address that the packet carries with it, by following rules derived from the routing table that has been built in the control plane.


Forwarding plane (a.k.a. data plane)

For pure Internet Protocol (IP) forwarding function, a router is designed to minimize the state information on individual packets. A router does not look into the actual data contents that the packet carries, but only at the layer 3 addresses to make a forwarding decision, plus optionally other information in the header for hint on, for example, QoS. Once a packet is forwarded, the router does not retain any historical information about the packet, but the forwarding action can be collected into the statistical data, if so configured.

Forwarding decisions can involve decisions at layers other than the IP internetwork layer or OSI layer 3. A function that forwards based on data link layer, or OSI layer 2, information, is properly called a bridge or switch. This function is referred to as layer 2 switching, as the addresses it uses to forward the traffic are layer 2 addresses in the OSI layer model.

Besides making decision as which interface a packet is forwarded to, which is handled primarily via the routing table, a router also has to manage congestion, when packets arrive at a rate higher than the router can process. Three policies commonly used in the Internet are Tail drop, Random early detection, and Weighted random early detection. Tail drop is the simplest and most easily implemented; the router simply drops packets once the length of the queue exceeds the size of the buffers in the router. Random early detection (RED) probabilistically drops datagrams early when the queue is about to exceed a pre-configured size of the queue. Weighted random early detection requires a weight on the average queue size to act upon when the traffic is about to exceed the pre-configured size, so that short bursts will not trigger random drops.

Another function a router performs is to decide which packet should be processed first when multiple queues exist. This is managed through QoS (Quality of Service), which is critical when VoIP (Voice over IP) is deployed, so that delays between packets do not exceed 150ms to maintain the quality of voice conversations.

Yet another function a router performs is called "policy based routing" where special rules are constructed to override the rules derived from the routing table when packet forwarding decision is made.

These functions may or may not be performed through the same internal paths that the packets travel inside the router. Some of the functions may be performed through an ASCI to avoid overhead caused by multiple CPU cycles, and others may have to be performed through the CPU as these packets need special attention that cannot be handled by an ASCI chip.

Types of routers

A demonstration of a router forwarding information to many clients.

Routers may provide connectivity inside enterprises, between enterprises and the Internet, and inside Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The largest routers (for example the Cisco CRS-1 or Juniper T1600) interconnect ISPs, are used inside ISPs, or may be used in very large enterprise networks. The smallest routers provide connectivity for small and home offices.

Routers for Internet connectivity and internal use

Routers intended for ISP and major enterprise connectivity almost invariably exchange routing information using the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). RFC 4098[3] defines several types of BGP-speaking routers according to the routers' functions:

  • Edge Router: An ER is placed at the edge of an ISP network. The router speaks external BGP (EBGP) to a BGP speaker in another provider or large enterprise Autonomous System(AS). This type of routers is also called PE (Provider Edge) routers.
  • Subscriber Edge Router: An SER is located at the edge of the subscriber's network, it speaks EBGP to its provider's AS(s). It belongs to an end user (enterprise) organization. This type of routers is also called CE (Customer Edge) routers.
  • Inter-provider Border Router: Interconnecting ISPs, this is a BGP speaking router that maintains BGP sessions with other BGP speaking routers in other providers' ASes.
  • Core router: A Core router is one that resides within an AS as back bone to carry traffic between edge routers.
Within an ISP: Internal to the provider's AS, such a router speaks internal BGP (IBGP) to that provider's edge routers, other intra-provider core routers, or the provider's inter-provider border routers.
"Internet backbone:" The Internet does not have a clearly identifiable backbone, as did its predecessors. See default-free zone (DFZ). Nevertheless, it is the major ISPs' routers that make up what many would consider the core. These ISPs operate all four types of the BGP-speaking routers described here. In ISP usage, a "core" router is internal to an ISP, and used to interconnect its edge and border routers. Core routers may also have specialized functions in virtual private networks based on a combination of BGP and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS).[4]

Routers are also used for port forwarding for private servers.

Small Office Home Office (SOHO) connectivity

Residential gateways (often called routers) are frequently used in homes to connect to a broadband service, such as IP over cable or DSL. Such a router may also include an internal DSL modem. Residential gateways and SOHO routers typically provide network address translation and port address translation in addition to routing. Instead of directly presenting the IP addresses of local computers to the remote network, such a residential gateway makes multiple local computers appear to be a single computer. SOHO routers may also support Virtual Private Network tunnel functionality to provide connectivity to an enterprise network..

Enterprise routers

All sizes of routers may be found inside enterprises. The most powerful routers tend to be found in ISPs and academic & research facilities. Large businesses may also need powerful routers.

A three-layer model is in common use, not all of which need be present in smaller networks.[5]


Access routers, including SOHO, are located at customer sites such as branch offices that do not need hierarchical routing of their own. Typically, they are optimized for low cost.


Distribution routers aggregate traffic from multiple access routers, either at the same site, or to collect the data streams from multiple sites to a major enterprise location. Distribution routers often are responsible for enforcing quality of service across a WAN, so they may have considerable memory, multiple WAN interfaces, and substantial processing intelligence.

They may also provide connectivity to groups of servers or to external networks. In the latter application, the router's functionality must be carefully considered as part of the overall security architecture. Separate from the router may be a firewall or VPN concentrator, or the router may include these and other security functions.

When an enterprise is primarily on one campus, there may not be a distinct distribution tier, other than perhaps off-campus access. In such cases, the access routers, connected to LANs, interconnect via core routers.


In enterprises, a core router may provide a "collapsed backbone" interconnecting the distribution tier routers from multiple buildings of a campus, or large enterprise locations. They tend to be optimized for high bandwidth.

When an enterprise is widely distributed with no central location(s), the function of core routing may be subsumed by the WAN service to which the enterprise subscribes, and the distribution routers become the highest tier.


Leonard Kleinrock and the first IMP.
A Cisco ASM/2-32EM router deployed at CERN in 1987.

The very first device that had fundamentally the same functionality as a router does today, i.e a packet switch, was the Interface Message Processor (IMP); IMPs were the devices that made up the ARPANET, the first packet switching network. The idea for a router (although they were called "gateways" at the time) initially came about through an international group of computer networking researchers called the International Network Working Group (INWG). Set up in 1972 as an informal group to consider the technical issues involved in connecting different networks, later that year it became a subcommittee of the International Federation for Information Processing. [6]

These devices were different from most previous packet switches in two ways. First, they connected dissimilar kinds of networks, such as serial lines and local area networks. Second, they were connectionless devices, which had no role in assuring that traffic was delivered reliably, leaving that entirely to the hosts (although this particular idea had been previously pioneered in the CYCLADES network).

The idea was explored in more detail, with the intention to produce a real prototype system, as part of two contemporaneous programs. One was the initial DARPA-initiated program, which created the TCP/IP architecture of today. [7] The other was a program at Xerox PARC to explore new networking technologies, which produced the PARC Universal Packet system, although due to corporate intellectual property concerns it received little attention outside Xerox until years later. [8]

The earliest Xerox routers came into operation sometime after early 1974. The first true IP router was developed by Virginia Strazisar at BBN, as part of that DARPA-initiated effort, during 1975-1976. By the end of 1976, three PDP-11-based routers were in service in the experimental prototype Internet. [9]

The first multiprotocol routers were independently created by staff researchers at MIT and Stanford in 1981; the Stanford router was done by William Yeager, and the MIT one by Noel Chiappa; both were also based on PDP-11s. [10] [11] [12] [13]

As virtually all networking now uses IP at the network layer, multiprotocol routers are largely obsolete, although they were important in the early stages of the growth of computer networking, when several protocols other than TCP/IP were in widespread use. Routers that handle both IPv4 and IPv6 arguably are multiprotocol, but in a far less variable sense than a router that processed AppleTalk, DECnet, IP, and Xerox protocols.

In the original era of routing (from the mid-1970s through the 1980s), general-purpose mini-computers served as routers. Although general-purpose computers can perform routing, modern high-speed routers are highly specialized computers, generally with extra hardware added to accelerate both common routing functions such as packet forwarding and specialised functions such as IPsec encryption.

Still, there is substantial use of Linux and Unix machines, running open source routing code, for routing research and selected other applications. While Cisco's operating system was independently designed, other major router operating systems, such as those from Juniper Networks and Extreme Networks, are extensively modified but still have Unix ancestry.

Router Manufacturers

The major router manufacturers include:


  1. ^ Requirements for IPv4 Routers,RFC 1812, F. Baker, June 1995
  2. ^ Requirements for Separation of IP Control and Forwarding,RFC 3654, H. Khosravi & T. Anderson, November 2003
  3. ^ Terminology for Benchmarking BGP Device Convergence in the Control Plane,RFC 4098, H. Berkowitz et al.,June 2005
  4. ^ BGP/MPLS VPNs,RFC 2547, E. Rosen and Y. Rekhter, April 2004
  5. ^ Oppenheimer, Priscilla (2004). Top-Down Network Design. Indianapolis: Cisco Press. ISBN 1587051524. 
  6. ^ Davies, Shanks, Heart, Barker, Despres, Detwiler, and Riml, "Report of Subgroup 1 on Communication System", INWG Note #1.
  7. ^ Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn, "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication", IEEE Transactions on Communications, Volume 22, Issue 5, May 1974, pp. 637 - 648.
  8. ^ David Boggs, John Shoch, Edward Taft, Robert Metcalfe, "Pup: An Internetwork Architecture", IEEE Transactions on Communications, Volume 28, Issue 4, April 1980, pp. 612- 624.
  9. ^ Craig Partridge, S. Blumenthal, "Data networking at BBN"; IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Volume 28, Issue 1; January-March 2006.
  10. ^ Valley of the Nerds: Who Really Invented the Multiprotocol Router, and Why Should We Care?, Public Broadcasting Service, Accessed August 11, 2007.
  11. ^ Router Man, NetworkWorld, Accessed June 22, 2007.
  12. ^ David D. Clark smells, "M.I.T. Campus Network Implementation", CCNG-2, Campus Computer Network Group, M.I.T., Cambridge, 1982; pp. 26.
  13. ^ Pete Carey, "A Start-Up's True Tale: Often-told story of Cisco's launch leaves out the drama, intrigue", San Jose Mercury News, December 1, 2001.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also router



Router m.

  1. router (a device that connects local area networks to form a larger internet)

This German entry was created from the translations listed at router. It may be less reliable than other entries, and may be missing parts of speech or additional senses. Please also see Router in the German Wiktionary. This notice will be removed when the entry is checked. (more information) April 2008

Simple English

Routers are the pieces of equipment responsible for making sure traffic between computers gets where it needs to go. They come in a variety of sizes from something you could hold in your hand to something too large for one person to lift. Routers choose the shortest path between computers using a complicated system of rules known as Routing Protocols. If you have an internet connection you probably have a router somewhere that your computer sends data to. This is the first router your computer will connect to in order to get to the internet. It is also known as a gateway (because it is your gateway to the internet). By convention the gateway has the lowest IP address (like a phone number for a computer) in the netblock (a group of addresses). Anytime you make a connection such as a connection to your computer looks up the address using the global look-up service called DNS (Domain Name Service) Once the destination address has been found your computer connects to your gateway. The gateway then hands off data to a router at your ISP (Internet Service Provider) that router can be said to be part of the internet and connects to one or more other routers until the data reaches the destination.

In small networks such as homes, small businesses (including internet cafes) and small schools, the router also performs NAT (network address translation) which makes all outgoing connections appear to come from one address. Typically incoming connections are only allowed if they are replies to connections made by a computer inside the NAT.

A router is a computer whose software and hardware are usually customized to perform tasks of routing and forwarding information. Routers generally contain a specialized operating system, RAM, NVRAM, flash memory, and one or more processors, as well as two or more network interfaces.

Routers connect two or more logical subnets, which do not necessarily map one-to-one to the physical interfaces of the router.[1] The term layer 3 switch often is used interchangeably with router, but switch is really a general term without a precise technical definition; network switches are generally optimized for Ethernet LAN interfaces and may not have other physical interface types.

Routers operate in two different planes [2]:

  • Control Plane, in which the router learns the outgoing interface that is most appropriate for forwarding specific packets to specific destinations,
  • Forwarding Plane, which is responsible for the actual process of sending a packet received on a logical interface to an outbound logical interface.

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