Switch vs Router: Key Difference between Router and Switch

Understand the complete differences between Switch vs Router, including its applications, merits, demerits, working, etc:

In our previous tutorials, we had already discussed in detail the working, configuration, and set-up of routers and switches with the help of the different examples in the networking system.

But here we will discuss the difference between switch and router from a larger perspective when we need to connect the various WAN networks all together under one platform.

Here we will analyze the role of switch vs router in the case of large and complex networking systems.

Let us begin!

Switch vs Router

Switch Vs Router

What is Switch

The switch is a networking device that operates on both layer-2 and layer-3 of the ISO-OSI reference model. Network information is transmitted in the form of data frames. The switch interfaces various network elements like PC, laptops, printers, etc. altogether into one platform.

It utilizes the ARP protocol to deliver the data frame to the destination by using the MAC addresses of machines provided with the unique MAC address of each switch.

The switches are the basic building blocks for LAN networks.

Suggested Reading => Differences between LAN, WAN, And MAN

Switch Basic Diagram:

Switch image

[image source]

What is Router

The router is the networking device that is used to connect multiple switches and other networking devices like servers, PCs, data servers, tablets, modems, etc. situated far apart altogether in a network for large LAN and WAN networks. Routers use STM links to connect to remote end devices.

The router is also used as a gateway for connecting to different networks under one platform.

The router has the in-built intelligence to perform the switching, routing, and following the security protocols to forward the data packets. It also supports the GUI-based Web interface to monitor and manage the networking system.


Router vs Switch-: The network router and switch, both are networking devices. They are the basic building blocks of any networking system.

The role of the router is to connect various far-end networks, while the role of the switch is to connect various network devices altogether simultaneously in the LAN network, as it operates most of the time on the data-link layer.

Further Reading =>> Difference Between a Modem and a Router

Tabular Difference Between Switch and Router

Basis of comparisonSwitchRouter
DefinitionIt is also a network connecting the device with the intelligence. It operates on the data link layer and connects the layer-2 devices altogether.The router is a networking device that associates various networks with each other for LAN and WAN networks.
LayerIt works on the data link and network layer of the ISO-OSI reference model.Unlike the Switch, the router only works on the network layer of the ISO-OSI reference model.
Data TransmissionData is transmitted in the form of data frames as well as data packets.Data is transmitted in form of IP packets only.
PortThe port configuration varies from model to model. It supports Ethernet ports and Gigabit Ethernet ports. For example, 10G base T ports.Routers use the WAN port and the Wi-Fi ports. Some routers come with a dual WAN port support configuration. Also, the routers which are used for small networks use LAN ports for configuration.
Transmission ModeHalf/Full duplexFull duplex

Physical Connectivity of Switch and Router

The physical connectivity between the switches and the end devices is via the Ethernet cable, console cable, fiber cable, etc. The connection can be 10Gbps and 100Gbps, etc. Also, the connectivity between the two switches in a network can be Physical or Virtual. (Virtually connected through a VLAN port).

Unlike the switch, the router doesn’t provide direct connectivity with the ISP, as it doesn’t work at the physical layer. It works on the network layer. The router has Ethernet and gigabit ports to connect with the different network devices and other networking systems.

The routers also have a Wi-Fi port for wireless connectivity. We can connect our PC directly to the router through a console cable.

Placement of Switch and Router in a Network

For the layer-2 operation, the switch is placed after the modem and before the router in the networking system. The layer-3 Switches are used to gear up data transmission in Large LAN networks.

For example, on College campuses, hospitals, etc. The layer-3 switches have routing capabilities, so it is kept after the modem and then through the Ethernet port can be connected to the servers, end devices, etc.

There are various ways of placing a router in a network. But here we are talking about the WAN complex networks. So, the router will connect the multiple network segments altogether through the switches. Multiple switches will all connect through the Router on the WAN port. The router is thereby connected to the Internet through a firewall or proxy server.

Security Features

Smart switches can detect and eliminate network threats in a switch and provide the switch data protection and control. Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) is a link management protocol that is used to manage network switches.

Other than this, switches also use security protocols like SSH, SFTP, IPSec, etc. But for the unmanageable switches and layer-2 simple switches, we need the firewall or other protection device to be installed in the network.

The router uses a firewall to examine the incoming data packets and filter the unwanted data packets by using the firewall. There are various security protocols used for routers like WiFi protected access (WPA), WEP, WPA2, etc. A router uses an encrypted network key to only allow the authorized user to access the network through the routers.

Feature Comparison


  • The smart switches support access and perform the configuration in the switch through GUI- a based web interface.
  • Minimal power consumption by using energy-efficient Ethernet (EEE) technology.
  • Suitable for small LAN as well as large LAN networks.
  • It supports advanced security protocols like MACsec, AAA, WEP, etc.
  • The switch works in master-slave redundancy mode, a ring-protection scenario so that if one link fails due to some reason, the slave will take over the charge and the network will remain live.
  • It supports full IP multicast switching.
  • Advanced switches also support SIP connectivity.


  • One of the biggest differences between a router and a switch is that the router will follow the shortest path to route the IP packets to the destination. The router follows various routing algorithms to perform these functions. It utilizes OSPF, STP, IS-IS, BGP, etc. to direct the data packet to the destination.
  • The router works in association with the firewall or proxy router in the network. This enhances network performance as only authorized users can access the network.
  • The in-built security feature will also rule out the possibility of unwanted virus attacks and other threats on the network.
  • It is having the restricted access feature which allows storing crucial information or sensitive data on the server as only the user with the authorized credentials can access it.
  • Routers provision the encapsulation of the data packets with filtering techniques.

Applications of Routers and Switch

The Router is used to connect distinctive networks all together which are situated at the remote end, especially for WAN networking systems. Thus, it will connect to multiple networks and find the shortest path to reach the destination to deliver the IP packet.

On the other hand, switches are generally meant for small offices and home LAN networks. But the switches can also be deployed in large LAN networks, such as universities, hotels, resorts, and hospitals, to connect the administrator, office staff, and customers under one platform.

The layer-3 switches in association with the routers can be used to construct complex WAN networks, where the switch will be the point of connection for all the end devices, which thereby will be connected to the router through multiple switches. The router will further forward the packets to the destination via the proxy server.

Routers have the capability of flow control, configuration flexibility, and QoS management, while the switches are having limited configuration support.

Also Read => Difference Between Layer 2 and Layer 3 Switches


Switch enhances network performance by distributing the load among various network elements. The switch has the capability of utilizing less bandwidth so optimal bandwidth utilization is achieved. Whenever needed, Switches can be connected directly to PCs.

The difference between router and switch is that the router will follow the shortest path to reach the destination among inter-networks by using the routing algorithms like OSPF, IS-IS, etc. Unlike a router, the switch uses IP multicast switching and uses static routing.

The switches are cheaper than the routers. Thus, optimal for LAN networks and small office networks. While routers are suitable for WAN networks as support faster switching.

Unlike the router, the switch is having fewer collision domains because it uses VLAN networks separately for communication. But routers offer secure network connections by having an in-built firewall to eliminate network threats.


The switches are not suitable for large WAN networks. The packet switching is a bit slower than that of routers and thus is also not compatible with complex LAN networks where multiple VLAN routing is required.

The switches are easy to install and configure. On the other hand, the hardware unit of routers is very huge and needs lots of physical space and time to get installed. The switches are cost-effective while the routers are very expensive.

Because of the complex configuration of routing algorithms and IP addresses, the routers are not compatible with all other network elements like hubs, modems, repeaters, etc. There are only a few devices that are compatible with all the routers. Most of the switches are compatible with all network devices.

Routers also have some protocol limitations, while switches are compatible with all routing protocols and security protocols.

Router utilizes large bandwidth STM links for operation as the dynamic routing requires lots of network overheads. This will consume a huge bandwidth of the network. While switches do not require such a huge capacity of bandwidth.

Working of Routers and Switch in a Network

Working of Router and Switch

As shown in the figure above, we have taken the example of a WAN network which consists of both a switch and router. The layer-1 devices like PC, laptops, and printers are connected to a physical LAN network. Then, all these devices will be connected to the Layer 3 switch via the Ethernet port. Both switches will share a common VLAN network.

Switch 1 and switch 2 are further connected to router 1 and router 2 which are thereby connected to the Internet service provider through the firewall network. The firewall will alter all unwanted packets and unauthorized access to the network.

Thus, the data flow will be congestion-free and the switching speed will be very fast. In the above scenario, the network will work in master-slave mode. Ideally, the data flow will occur through switch 1 and router 1.

But if the link gets fails or some other hardware issue arises, then the changeover will take place and all the traffic and data flow will be shifted to Switch 2 and router 2 as they will operate in master mode.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q #1) What factors are to be considered while choosing the network switch?

Answer: The factors may vary depending upon the type of network we are working on. For layer-2 operation, small LAN networks, the small capacity which supports only Ethernet ports are good. For big LAN networks, smart switches are needed that support fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Q #2) What features should a router have when used for WAN networks?

Answer: First, the router should have multiple wired and wireless gigabit ethernet ports. The router should support the Web interface for managing the network. It should have a USB port for end devices. Dual and backup support for operating in master-slave mode. In-built malware and virus attack protection is also required.

Q #3) Can the router act as a Switch?

Answer: No, the router can’t take the position of the switch as it operates only on the network layer.

Q #4) In what means a router is better than a switch?

Answer: The router offers QoS services like NATFlow, dynamic routing, virus protection, and faster packet switching, thus increasing the overall performance of the network.

Q #5) What are the similarities between a Switch and a router?

Answer: The switch and router are both smart devices and networking devices which connect different networking elements altogether to construct a network. Both are having multiple fast-switching ports to connect to the network devices. Also, both follow some routing techniques to deliver the data packet to the destination.


We have explored and understood the basic working principle and purpose of using network Switches and Routers in the computer networking system for complex LAN and WAN networks.

We have also analyzed the point-to-point difference between the two devices based on the applications, placement, mode of transmission, layer of working, merits, demerits, and features.

We have also seen some frequently asked questions about the difference between router and switch performance and features.