In order for a local area network to relay data packets between devices, a component known as a network switch is often used. Unlike a router that may manage data across multiple devices and networks simultaneously, a network switch is specifically intended for directing data towards a single device. In this blog, we will discuss network switches, their common types, and uses, allowing you to better understand typical network configurations and assemblies.
Routers are often compared to network switches due to their similar functionalities, though they both differ in their exact capabilities. With a router, data packets can be directed to destinations while crossing networks. Generally, routers can take advantage of LANs, wide area networks, and other large networks that the Internet is composed of. As such, a router serves as a gateway for devices to access the Internet and all it has to offer.
Network switches, on the other hand, are then used to relay data packets between interconnected devices. Network switches are also not a requirement for most home networks and small businesses, while routers are always required for connection to the Internet. Nevertheless, network switches are very useful for when a large amount of Ethernet ports are required, such as when multiple hardwired connections are established. Additionally, network switches become a requirement when a space consists of dozens or hundreds of workstations.
When procuring network switches, such components may either operate on an OSI layer 2 or layer 3. Layer 2 switches, which operate on the data link layer, serve to forward data as determined by the destination’s MAC address. Layer 3 switches, which operate on the network layer, take advantage of IP addresses for forwarding data to its destination. Layer 2 switches are the most commonly used device, connected to computers through the use of Ethernet cables that plug into Ethernet ports. In some instances, one may be able to procure switches that are capable of operating on both layers for increased functionality.
Unmanaged switches are a specialized network switch, allowing for an increased amount of Ethernet ports to be established on a local area network. Such components are beneficial for allowing more devices to access the Internet, and they can direct data between devices utilizing MAC addresses. Unmanaged switches also enhance control over traffic prioritization for network administrators and can allow for networks to be divided into Virtual LANs.
Before committing to a specific switch, it can be helpful to know the difference between MAC and IP addresses as some switches may only be capable of taking advantage of one or the other. All devices that have Internet connectivity have an IP address, those of which are alphanumeric strings of codes that serve as a sort of mailing address for networks. IP addresses may be static or dynamic as well, some changing every time they establish a new connection. MAC addresses, on the other hand, are permanently assigned to every piece of hardware like a serial number and are unchangeable. As such, MAC addresses are used outside of Internet traffic and are important for internetwork functionalities.
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