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switch (network switch)

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Definition: A network switch is a small hardware device that joins multiple computers together within one local area network (LAN). Ethernet switch devices were commonly used on home networks before home routers became popular; broadband routers integrate Ethernet switches directly into the unit as one of their many functions. High-performance network switches are still widely used in corporate networks and data centers.

Network Switch Technology

While switching capabilities exist for several types of networks, Ethernet switches are the most common type. Mainstream Ethernet switches like those inside broadband routers support Gigabit Ethernet (1 Gbps) speeds, but high-performance switches like those in data centers generally support 10 Gbps.

Different models of network switches support differing numbers of connected devices. Consumer-grade network switches provide either four or eight connections for Ethernet devices, while corporate switches typically support between 32 and 128 connections. Switches can additionally be connected to each other, a so-called daisy chaining method to add progressively larger number of devices to a LAN.

Network switches operate at layer two (Data Link Layer) of the OSI model.

Network Switches vs. Hubs and Routers

Physically, network switches look nearly identical to network hubs. Switches, unlike hubs, are capable of inspecting data as messages are received via a method called packet switching. A switch determines the source and destination device of each packet and forwards data only to the specific device intended to conserve network bandwidth and generally improve performance compared to hubs.

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