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What Is a Layer 3 Switch?

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Question: What Is a Layer 3 Switch?
Traditional network switches operate at Layer 2 of the OSI model while network routers operate at Layer 3. This often leads to confusion over the definition of "Layer 3 switch."
Answer: A Layer 3 switch is a high-performance device for network routing. Layer 3 switches actually differ very little from routers. A Layer 3 switch can support the same routing protocols as network routers do. Both inspect incoming packets and make dynamic routing decisions based on the source and destination addresses inside. Both types of boxes share a similar appearance.

Layer 3 switches were conceived as a technology to improve on the performance of routers used in large local area networks (LANs) like corporate intranets. The key difference between Layer 3 switches and routers lies in the hardware technology used to build the unit. The hardware inside a Layer 3 switch merges that of traditional switches and routers, replacing some of a router's software logic with hardware to offer better performance in some situations.

Layer 3 switches often cost less than traditional routers. Designed for use within local networks, a Layer 3 switch will typically not possess the WAN ports and wide area network features a traditional router will always have.

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