If you're reading these words, you've benefited from the operations of a router -- probably several in fact. Learn more about these mysterious mechanical manipulators that control network navigation by taking this quiz.
A router is a specialized computer that is programmed to interface between different networks. Some software programs can function as routers, but today, we'll just be quizzing you on the physical kind.
Routers are programmed to perform both these critical functions, standing as gatekeepers between networks to control the flow of data over the Internet.
When you hit the send button on an email, place an online order, open a Web page or do any of the other myriad activities possible with the Internet, all that information is broken down into much smaller packets of data, sent individually and then reassembled at the intended destination.
Routers are the only type of equipment twisted into the Internet's massive network of networks that look at every single packet passing by.
All kinds of events can cause congestion along the different routes across the Internet. For example, a storm in one city could take out the power and all the routers located in range of the power failure with it. But don't worry, other routers looking to send packets in that direction can simply switch them along another more trouble-free route. Packet-switching networks offer this flexibility and redundancy.
Packets, just like regular snail mail letters, are labeled with delivery addresses and return addresses. Using this information, routers can figure out what direction -- if not the exact location -- a packet needs to be headed.
Routers are programmed to be capable of determining when certain segments of the Internet are busier than others. When one portion experiences some congestion, nearby routers simply send packets of information along another route.
Routers can possess a number of features which fine-tune what the router will let pass and what it will flag as potentially dangerous or unnecessary.
Major routers handle vast amounts of data, but routers don't need to be that massive. They can be medium sized and even quite small -- it really just depends on the needs of the networks they are connecting.
Large routers that operate at major Internet traffic points can handle tens of millions of data packets every second. For example, the Cisco 12016 GSR could handle a whopping 60 million packets a second.