Switches are commonly used in computer networks. Not to be confused with a router, it’s designed to connect devices to a local area network (LAN). Using a switch, you can connect computers, printers, fax machines, smartphones and other supported devices to your business’s network. Because of their similarities to routers, though, many business owners neglect to use them. For a better understanding of switches and how they work, keep reading.
What Is a Switch?
A switch is a networking component that’s designed to connect multiple devices to a LAN. It essentially allows these devices to communicate with each other. When connected to a LAN, the devices can send and receive data between themselves.
You can use a switch to connect your computer and printer to your business’s LAN, for instance. Even if the computer and printer aren’t physically connected via a cable, a switch will allow them to communicate with each other. You can print documents from your computer without the need for a physical connection. Of course, this is just one of many applications for switches. Switches can connect other devices to a LAN, all while allowing them to communicate with each other.
Switches vs Routers
Both switches and routers are used to connect multiple devices to a network, but they aren’t necessarily the same. Routers are characterized by their Layer 3 operation, whereas switches operate on layer 2 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model.
More specifically, routers are capable of connecting entire networks together. A router can essentially connect two or more switches — along with their respective networks — together. In comparison, switches are only capable of connecting devices.
How Switches Work
Switches work by using media access control (MAC) addresses to relay data packets. Each device has a MAC address, which is assigned to the device’s network interface controller (NIIC). A switch will use a device’s MAC to connect it to other devices on the same LAN.
All devices that support networking have a MAC address. When you attempt to connect a device to a network, the switch will use its MAC address. You can then use that device to communicate with other devices on the same network. The switch will relay data packets between the devices based upon their respective MAC address. This is another way in which switches differ from routers. Routers use Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, whereas switches use MAC addresses.
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