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How do routers and switches differ in the OSI model?

Learn the difference between a switch and a router in relation to the OSI model in this Ask the Expert.

What is the difference between the switch and the router in relation to the OSI model?

A traditional Layer 2 switch is dealing with Ethernet frame data -- specifically, MAC addresses. A switch has a CAM (content addressable memory) table that is used to hold MAC addresses and then make a decision as to what switch port to forward to. Routers are Layer 3 devices and are concerned with routing protocols, such as OSPF, and routable protocols such as IP. Another distinction is that while switches look at physical frames, routers deal with routable addresses like 12.16.1.1.

This was first published in August 2007

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