Does Everyone need a Router?

Posted By BrokenClaw on January 1, 2008

Most homes have a single connection to the Internet, which is shared by all of the computers in the home. This process is made possible by an additional piece of hardware called a router. Technically, a router is a more general term which applies to specialized computer devices which control all Internet traffic at an ISP, commercial network, and even the Internet backbone itself. The router in your home is differentiated by being described more properly as a residential gateway. Nevertheless, most people still call it a home router.

Dial-up service does not generally provide enough bandwidth for simultaneous connections, so each computer usually connects directly to the ISP without a router.Linksys router

For broadband connections — cable, DSL, or FiOS — a home router is a separate device, about the size of a hardcover book, which is set up between the modem and the computer. However, the router and modem can also be incorporated into one device.

The modem creates the connection from your home onto the Internet, but the router controls all of the traffic from the modem to the different computers in your home. When you connect to your ISP, they assign you a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address, a series of 3-digit numbers which identifies your place on the Internet. In most cases, your ISP assigns you a random number, within their range of assigned numbers, each time you connect. The router then assigns private IP addresses to your computers, that only your router knows and sees.

Having the computers in your home set up with their own IP address, connected to each other by the router, creates a network in your home. This type of network is called a local area network, abbreviated LAN, to differentiate it from a wide area network, a WAN.

The primary purpose of the router is to keep track of all of the traffic going out to the Internet and, when the traffic comes back from the Internet, to route it to the correct computer. That process is called network address translation, abbreviated NAT. By its nature, NAT routers ignore all unsolicited traffic from the Internet. In other words, if your computer did not request it, the router rejects it. This feature is considered a hardware firewall, because it protects your home computers from random attacks by malicious traffic running around on the Internet which searches for unprotected computers.

Home routers come in a wide variety of configurations. All of them have at least one Ethernet port, which is used to connect the primary computer to the router and which is used to set it up and manage it. The router can have additional Ethernet ports for connecting more computers. Most home routers also include some version of Wi-Fi wireless. The speed and reliability of wi-fi allows most people to use the wireless connection for all of the other computers.

Besides computers, other devices are designed to connect through your router to your home network.

  • A printer server makes it possible to have a printer available to all computers, without having it connected to one particular computer. Some printers have the network connection built-in.
  • Network attached storage, abbreviated NAS, is a device which uses hard drives to store data, such as media files and backup files, that can be shared among all computers in the home.
  • Game consoles like the X-Box┬« and Playstation┬« are essentially specialized computers which have Internet capabilities for online gaming and media downloads.

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