In packet-switched networks such as the Internet, a router is a device or, in some cases, software in a computer, that determines the next network point to which a packet should be forwarded toward its destination.
The router is connected to at least two networks and decides which way to send each information packet based on its current understanding of the state of the networks it is connected to. A router is located at any gateway (where one network meets another), including each point-of-presence on the Internet. A router is often included as part of a network switch.
A router may create or maintain a table of the available routes and their conditions and use this information along with distance and cost algorithms to determine the best route for a given packet. Typically, a packet may travel through a number of network points with routers before arriving at its destination. Routing is a function associated with the Network layer (layer 3) in the standard model of network programming, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. A layer-3 switch is a switch that can perform routing functions.
For home and business computer users who have high-speed Internet connections such as cable, satellite, or DSL, a router can act as a hardware firewall. This is true even if the home or business has only one computer. Many engineers believe that the use of a router provides better protection against hacking than a software firewall, because no computer Internet Protocol address are directly exposed to the Internet. This makes port scans (a technique for exploring weaknesses) essentially impossible. In addition, a router does not consume computer resources as a software firewall does. Commercially manufactured routers are easy to install, reasonably priced, and available for hard-wired or wireless networks.