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TIHE Encyclopedia

Routers - by Curt Franklin

Routers are specialized computers that send your messages and those of every other Internet user speeding to their destinations along thousands of pathways. In this article, we'll look at how these behind-the-scenes machines make the Internet work.

A Routers Job
  • The router ensures that information doesn't go where it's not needed. This is crucial for keeping large volumes of data from clogging the connections of "innocent bystanders."
  • The router makes sure that information does make it to the intended destination.

    In performing these two jobs, a router is extremely useful in dealing with two separate computer networks. It joins the two networks, passing information from one to the other and, in some cases, performing translations of various protocols between the two networks. It also protects the networks from one another, preventing the traffic on one from unnecessarily spilling over to the other. As the number of networks attached to one another grows, the configuration table for handling traffic among them grows, and the processing power of the router is increased. Regardless of how many networks are attached, though, the basic operation and function of the router remains the same. Since the Internet is one huge network made up of tens of thousands of smaller networks, its use of routers is an absolute necessity.

    How does the Routers Work?

    The router is the only device that sees every message sent by any computer on either of the company's networks. When the animator in our example sends a huge file to another animator, the router looks at the recipient's address and keeps the traffic on the animator's network. When an animator, on the other hand, sends a message to the bookkeeper asking about an expense-account check, then the router sees the recipient's address and forwards the message between the two networks.

    One of the tools a router uses to decide where a packet should go is a configuration table. A configuration table is a collection of information, including:

  • Information on which connections lead to particular groups of addresses
  • Priorities for connections to be used
  • Rules for handling both routine and special cases of traffic

    Let's look at what a very simple router might do. Imagine a small company that makes animated 3-D graphics for local television stations. There are 10 employees of the company, each with a computer. Four of the employees are animators, while the rest are in sales, accounting and management. The animators will need to send lots of very large files back and forth to one another as they work on projects. To do this, they'll use a network.

    When one animator sends a file to another, the very large file will use up most of the network's capacity, making the network run very slowly for other users. One of the reasons that a single intensive user can affect the entire network stems from the way that Ethernet works. Each information packet sent from a computer is seen by all the other computers on the local network. Each computer then examines the packet and decides whether it was meant for its address. This keeps the basic plan of the network simple, but has performance consequences as the size of the network or level of network activity increases. To keep the animators' work from interfering with that of the folks in the front office, the company sets up two separate networks, one for the animators and one for the rest of the company. A router links the two networks and connects both networks to the Internet.

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