A network router is a more sophisticated network device compared to either a network switch or a network hub. Like hubs and switches, routers are typically small, box-like pieces of equipment that multiple computers can connect to. Each features a number of ports on the front or back of the unit that provide the connection points for these computers, a connection for electric power, and a number of LED lights to display device status. While routers, hubs and switches all share similar physical appearance, routers differ substantially in their inner workings.
Traditional routers are designed to join together multiple local area networks (LANs) with a wide area network (WAN). Routers serve as intermediate destinations for network traffic. They receive incoming network packets, look inside each packet to identify the source and target network addresses, then forward these packets where needed to ensure the data reaches its final destination.
Routers for home networks (often called broadband routers) are designed specifically to join the home (LAN) to the Internet (WAN) for the purpose of Internet connection sharing. In contrast, switches (and hubs) are not capable of joining multiple networks or sharing an Internet connection. A network with only switches (hubs) must instead designate one computer as the gateway to the Internet, and that device must possess two network adapters for sharing, one for the home LAN and one for the Internet WAN. With a router, all home computers connect to the router as peers, and the router performs all gateway functions.
Additionally, broadband routers contain several features beyond those of traditional routers such as integrated DHCP server and network firewall support. Most notably, though, broadband routers typically incorporate a built-in Ethernet switch. This allows several switches (hubs) to be connected to them, as a means to expand the local network to accommodate more Ethernet devices.