How Routers Work

Knowing Where to Send Data

Routers are one of several types of devices that make up the "plumbing" of a computer network. Hubs, switches and routers all take signals from computers or networks and pass them along to other computers and networks, but a router is the only one of these devices that examines each bundle of data as it passes and makes a decision about exactly where it should go. To make these decisions, routers must first know about two kinds of information: addresses and network structure.

When a friend mails a birthday card to be delivered to you at your house, he probably uses an address that looks something like this:

Joe Smith

123 Maple Street

Smalltown, FL 45678

The address has several pieces, each of which helps the people in the postal service move the letter along to your house. The ZIP code can speed the process up; but even without the ZIP code, the card will get to your house as long as your friend includes your state, city and street address. You can think of this address as a logical address because it describes a way someone can get a message to you. This logical address is connected to a physical address that you generally only see when you're buying or selling a piece of property. The survey plot of the land and house, with latitude, longitude or section bearings, gives the legal description, or address, of the property.