Some technicians have a tendency to use the terms routers, hubs and switches interchangeably. One minute they're talking about a switch. Two minutes later they're discussing router settings. Throughout all of this, though, they're still looking at only the one box. Ever wonder what the difference is among these boxes? The functions of the three devices are all quite different from one another, even if at times they are all integrated into a single device. Which one do you use when? Let's take a look...
Hub, Switch, and Router Defined
A common connection point for devices in a network. Hubs are commonly used to connect segments of a LAN. A hub contains multiple ports. When a packet arrives at one port, it is copied to the other ports so that all segments of the LAN can see all packets.
In networks, a device that filters and forwards packets between LAN segments. Switches operate at the data link layer (layer 2) and sometimes the network layer (layer 3) of the OSI Reference Model and therefore support any packet protocol. LANs that use switches to join segments are called switched LANs or, in the case of Ethernet networks, switched Ethernet LANs.
A device that forwards data packets along networks. A router is connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its ISP.s network. Routers are located at gateways, the places where two or more networks connect. Routers use headers and forwarding tables to determine the best path for forwarding the packets, and they use protocols such as ICMP to communicate with each other and configure the best route between any two hosts.
The Differences Between Hubs, Switches, and Routers on the Network
Today most routers have become something of a Swiss Army knife, combining the features and functionality of a router and switch/hub into a single unit. So conversations regarding these devices can be a bit misleading — especially to someone new to computer networking.
The functions of a router, hub and a switch are all quite different from one another, even if at times they are all integrated into a single device. Let's start with the hub and the switch since these two devices have similar roles on the network. Each serves as a central connection for all of your network equipment and handles a data type known as frames. Frames carry your data. When a frame is received, it is amplified and then transmitted on to the port of the destination PC. The big difference between these two devices is in the method in which frames are being delivered.
In a hub, a frame is passed along or "broadcast" to every one of its ports. It doesn't matter that the frame is only destined for one port. The hub has no way of distinguishing which port a frame should be sent to. Passing it along to every port ensures that it will reach its intended destination. This places a lot of traffic on the network and can lead to poor network response times.
Additionally, a 10/100Mbps hub must share its bandwidth with each and every one of its ports. So when only one PC is broadcasting, it will have access to the maximum available bandwidth. If, however, multiple PCs are broadcasting, then that bandwidth will need to be divided among all of those systems, which will degrade performance.
A switch, however, keeps a record of the MAC addresses of all the devices connected to it. With this information, a switch can identify which system is sitting on which port. So when a frame is received, it knows exactly which port to send it to, without significantly increasing network response times. And, unlike a hub, a 10/100Mbps switch will allocate a full 10/100Mbps to each of its ports. So regardless of the number of PCs transmitting, users will always have access to the maximum amount of bandwidth. It's for these reasons why a switch is considered to be a much better choice then a hub.
Routers are completely different devices. Where a hub or switch is concerned with transmitting frames, a router's job, as its name implies, is to route packets to other networks until that packet ultimately reaches its destination. One of the key features of a packet is that it not only contains data, but the destination address of where it's going.
So, in short, a hub glues together an Ethernet network segment, a switch can connect multiple Ethernet segments more efficiently and a router can do those functions plus route TCP/IP packets between multiple LANs and/or WANs; and much more of course.