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While network switches and routers are essential and similar-looking pieces of network equipment, they perform different functions. To further complicate matters, many network specialists use the terms interchangeably. Let’s clear up any misunderstandings.

Here are the differences between a network switch vs. a router.


A Switch A Router
Connects various devices together (e.g. computers, printers, and servers) within a local area network (LAN). Creates and maintains a local area network (LAN) by connecting multiple devices, including switches.
Facilitates the sharing of information between connected devices Helps handle multiple networks
Connects to a router, which allows devices to connect to the internetAllows networked devices and their users to access the internet directly 
Directs traffic over more complicated routesDecides device priority and directs traffic by choosing the most efficient route for data packets to travel across a network
Does not include firewall functionalityProtects transferred information from security threats with its included basic firewalls
Operates at layer two of the OSI modelOperates at Layer 3 of the OSI model
Stores MAC addresses in the lookup tableStores IP addresses in the routing table
Has one broadcast domain (except VLAN implemented)Has a broadcast domain for every port
Works only on wired network connectionsWorks with both wired and wireless network connections
Does not offer NAT, NetFlow, and QoS ServicesOffers NAT, NetFlow, and QoS Services
Is faster in a LAN environmentIs faster in MAN/WAN network environments
Is in Full DuplexIs in Less Duplex
Limits speed to 10/100 MbpsLimits speed to 1–10 Mbps for wireless and 100 Mbps for wired

What a Switch and a Router Are Used For

A switch (also called an ethernet switch) makes it possible for all of your devices to connect and communicate within your network. That includes your computers, printers, IP phones, point-of-sale registers, servers, and more—any devices that need to operate within your local area network (LAN).

If you’ve ever opened a document on your computer and then printed it on a printer located at the other end of the office, you have benefited from having an ethernet switch.

A router uses switches to create a high-performance LAN in which connected devices can access the internet or other networks. A router prioritizes devices and users, and efficiently directs traffic accordingly. It’s essential for maintaining seamless and quick network service.

Switch vs. Router: How Switches and Routers Work

A switch works by acting like a subway station for your internal network, transferring packets of data from one device to another.

Switches build a network within a layered architecture. The first layer, known as the “edge layer,” provides connectivity for all your devices. For smaller businesses, this layer of “routing switches” connects directly to your router, which in turn connects your business to the internet. Simply put, you cannot build a network for your business without switches.

For larger businesses, these switches connect to aggregation switches, which enable your network to scale.

There are two kinds of switches, unmanaged and managed.

  • Unmanaged switches merely provide ethernet devices with network connections, essentially serving as basic connection ports that require no configuration. These switches typically have additional ports of connectivity in office and conference room environments.
  • Managed switches offer much more customization, device transparency, and security for your network than unmanaged switches. Some types even provide a real-time network topology overview and status of every device plugged into the switch.

A router allows the devices on your internal network to connect to the internet and to each other. It connects the small network (made up by one switch) to other networks, expanding the network’s coverage and capacity. A router also decides which devices have priority on your network, and which switches the information will travel through on its journey from Point A to Point B.

If a switch is a subway station, then a router works like the terminal at Times Square where multiple subway lines converge and passengers can enter or exit the system as well as transfer between lines.

Which to Choose: Router vs. Switch for Your Business

When it comes to deciding if your business needs a switch or a router for connecting to and communicating within your network, which one does your business need—router vs. switch?

It can be confusing—which makes it difficult for many business owners to determine which device is right for their location—but the decision is actually nonexistent. Why? Because most of the time you don’t need to choose one or the other.

Most businesses are heavily dependent on the internet to conduct daily business. So many business functions require being connected to the internet via a router, such as:

  • Making and approving online transactions
  • Connecting devices and users to SaaS or cloud-based applications
  • Completing credit card processing

However, businesses who have their own LAN also need at least one switch to connect all the devices and users together so information can freely flow from one to another.

In other words, smaller businesses without their own internal computer network can get by with just a router. Otherwise, businesses need both a router and at least one switch.


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