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Published On: Tue, Aug 1st, 2017

Network routers, hubs, and switches: The three Musketeers of the computer world

The most common components in a standard computer network are routers, switches, and hubs. On the outside, each of these electronic components looks similar, but they function in different ways. Here, we’ll discuss the differences among these important elements.

photo/ Gerd Altmann via pixabay

Modern networks operate via Open System Interconnection. This determines how communications on a network are integrated and implemented. This purpose of establishing this standard is to allow components from different manufacturers to co-exist on the same network and function together as a whole. Within the umbrella of network systems, there are subsets such as wireless (WiFi) networks.

Let’s look at how computers on a network talk to each other. When a message is sent from one computer to another, that message is broken down into its component parts The message is reduced to binary code, a particular series of 0’s and 1’s. The next part of the message is the frame, a group of bits that contain the control information such as the destination address and any error detection that may be necessary. From there, the message also includes a group of frames known as a packet. When the message is sent over the internet, those packets “travel” along different paths, to be reconfigured and combined once they reach the destination address.

Hubs

The network hub operates on the physical layer of the OSI standard. Of the three components to be discussed here, the hub is the simplest. The hub translates the message to be transmitted in the form of bits; the content of the message is not important to the hub. Its job is only to record the signal and rebroadcast it to the intended destinations and back to the originating port.

There are two kinds of hubs: active hubs and passive hubs. An active hub cleans the noise away from the electrical signal and amplifies the signal prior to that message being rebroadcast. On the flip side, a passive hub does nothing to amplify the signal. It only receives the signal and rebroadcasts it, unchanged, to each destination port. In some networks, the member computers on the network are linked to a common printer or set of printers by way of a hub.

Switches

A network switches operates one layer down from the hub, on the data link layer. The switch, as one might guess, is charged with the task of switch the path of a signal, enabling a message frame to go to a specified destination. Switches are intelligent components, having the ability to retain memory information so that they “remember” which specific path leads to each destination. The messages routed by a network switch are contain within frames.

When computers are attached to a network switch, the switch records information on the network’s interface card. The switch sends a frame only to the computer for which it is intended. The switch prevents the network’s paths from being taken up by every frame, which helps to conserve the overall supply of resources on the network. Through a switch, computer ABC can send a message to computer XYZ while at the same time computer 123 can send a message to computer 456 without any issue of lack of resources.

Network routers

Moving down one additional layer, we find the network layer. On that layer, we find the network router. The job of a router, as you might expect, is to route things through a network. They function in some of the same ways as switches, but the primary job of a router is to connect two or more networks together, such as a wireless network to a local area network, or a local area network to the internet at large by way of a Network Address Translation. As opposed to frames, a network router handles messages in the form of packets. Using the IP addresses contained with the packets, the packets are routed across multiple networks.

Moreso than the other components mentioned here, a router is capable of very advanced functions, including providing firewall services to a network. A firewall protects computers on a network from malicious invasion from outside the network.

These are just some of the types of components on a network. There are others, and in many cases the jobs performed by one type of component will be the same or very similar to those performed by another type of component. Certain types of hubs, for example, will perform like certain types of network switches. Online companies such as icrfq are great sources for a variety of electronic components such as these.

Author: Huzaifa Juvaid

photo/ Gerd Altmann via pixabay

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