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What is the difference between a bridge and a router?

While a bridge and router share some similarities, the difference between a bridge and router is significant, including how the devices interpret network connections.

A bridge connects two LANs within a single domain, using Media Access Control addresses to determine destinations. Bridge traffic is non-routable, meaning data cannot move outside of the joined networks, or domain. Now, let's dissect the difference between a bridge and router.

A router also connects two LANs and moves traffic via IP addresses. Routers have the intelligence to determine the next network point if the address is not within its managed pool of endpoints. Routers understand the state of the connected networks and where to forward non-local packets.

The key difference between a bridge and router is a bridge sees the two networks as a single entity and a router sees two networks as discrete entities.

Features of a bridge

Bridges are essentially repeaters. They send any data from one network to another. A simple bridge will have two ports -- in and out -- and will only connect two networks. A multiport bridge would provide bridging between multiple networks. Bridges use filtering tables to decide if a frame should be forwarded or dropped, based on whether it is included in the pool of connected clients.

Features of a router

Unlike a bridge, if a router receives a packet that is not destined for a connected client, it will forward that packet onward. Routers depend on a routing table in order to know the next destination if it is outside the pool of addresses that the router is maintaining.

A typical router will have a WAN interface along with a LAN interface. The WAN connection is for all traffic outside of the router's pool, and the LAN connection is for local clients. A router is located at any gateway -- where one network meets another -- including each point of presence on the internet. Some consumer routers combine a network switch as well.

router vs. bridge
Compare the differences between a bridge and router.

Can I replace a bridge with a router?

Because both bridges and routers connect networks together, they can be interchangeable to a degree. A router could replace a bridge, connecting two networks. But it does not make sense to replace a router with a bridge because routers can forward non-local traffic and bridges will simply drop traffic for addresses not in their local tables.

Next Steps

Learn about the differences between a bridge and switch

This was last published in November 2019

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Why would you want to replace a bridge with a router?
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