What Is a Computer Router

What is a computer router? You've probably heard the term "router" used along with other technical jargon like "local area network," "WiFi" or "wireless network." But what exactly are routers used for, and how do they fit in with the terms listed above?

Locating Your Router
If you are reading this article at home on your Mac or PC, then you probably have a router right in your house. Routers are little black boxes that make connecting to the Internet possible. Look around you, there's probably one on the floor next to you. It might be mixed in with a pile of wires, but it should be a rectangular box with little blinking lights. See it?

The Purpose Of A Router
What routers do is make it possible for the Internet to interact with your computer. When you sign up for Internet service, the company you choose, your Internet service provider (ISP), should give you a router. The router is assigned a unique number called an IP address. This number is what identifies your router on the Internet, the way your home address identifies exactly where you live. If you try to send a letter through the mail without an address, it will never reach its destination. The same goes for the Internet. Packets of information that are sent from the Internet need to know exactly where to go. The router identifies your computer on the Internet and translates the packets of information so that your computer can interpret them.

Routers also make it possible for more than one computer to be connected to the Internet from the same area. That's why many computers can access the Internet from a single office building over a local area network. They all connect through the same router, which takes up only one IP address. This keeps the number of IP addresses lower than if each individual computer were assigned an IP address.

Wired Versus Wireless Routers
But what about laptops? How are they able to connect to the Internet without a direct line to the router? Wireless routers are a type of router that connects to a basic router and broadcasts a radio signal that can be picked up by a computer's wireless card. This is why laptops are able to pick up Internet in places like hotels and cafés.

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