Router Networking Terms Defined

Router networking terms confuse everyone at first, but once you learn the language, taking care of your home network becomes much easier. We have previously written about network troubleshooting commands, however this tutorial is concentrated on Router networking terms. Read on to learn the difference between a switch, a router, and a wireless router.

Networking Terms

  • Router any computer or device which sends packets from one network to another, such as from your home network to the Internet. Most routers are small devices with Ethernet ports and wireless antennae, but any computer with two network interfaces (and the right software) can also serve as a router.
  • Switch a device which lets two computers on the same network communicate. Most routers include a built-in switch that lets all of the computers on your home network communicate.
  • Ethernet the most commonly used way to connect home and office computers to a router or switch using wires. See how to setup Gigabyte Ethernet.
  • Ethernet cable (sometimes called a patch cable) the cables that provide ethernet connections. They come in three common types: CAT–5 (about 10 megabytes a second speed), CAT–5E (about 100 megabytes a second speed), CAT–6 (in theory, faster than 100 megabytes a second speed).
  • Wireless router a computer or device which sends packets from one wireless network to another network (usually the Internet). Wireless 802.11-A provides a fast, short-range connection. Wireless-B provides a slower (1 megabyte a second) longer-range connection. Wireless-G provides a faster (6 megabyte a second) longer-range connection. Wireless-N provides the fastest and longest range connection (10 megabytes a second or faster).[easyazon-image align="right" asin="B000BTL0OA" locale="us" height="148" src="" width="160"]
  • Crossover cable a special Ethernet cable with one pair of wires reversed that it can connect a cable or DSL modem to a router or can connect two computers together. Often a yellow-color cord instead of the typical blue ethernet cord.
  • Packet a piece of information sent over the network and its routing information. Like an envelope, a packet holds the addresses of the source and destination of the information, plus some other information like Quality of Service (QoS) flags that help routers efficiently get the information to its destination.
  • Firewall a point in the network where unwanted incoming packets are blocked. Every router acts as a basic firewall; there are also special hardware firewalls and software firewalls.
  • DHCP The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, the system that lets your Internet Service Provider (ISP) give your modem an Internet Protocol (IP) address and then lets your router give each of your computers its own local IP address. It also tells your computers how to find the server that turns hostnames like into IP addresses, so your computer can connect to websites.
  • WEP Wired Equivalent Privacy, an older security protocol that helped prevent hackers from snooping on wireless communications. No longer secure against serious hackers but good enough to keep typical neighbors from eavesdropping on your Facebook chats.

Networking Terms

  • WPA or WPA2 Wifi Protected Access, the current security protocol that prevents hackers from snooping on your wireless communication. In homes and small offices, you create a password on the router which each user uses to securely connect to the Internet through the router. You will find these terms when setting up your network security.
  • SSID Service Set IDentifier, the name of a wireless network. In homes and small offices, each router has its own SSID, but in larger offices, hotels, and campuses, several routers (up to several thousands) will all share the same SSID, letting you use your laptop over a wide distance.
  • Hidden SSID A SSID which is not broadcast publicly, making it more difficult for casual users to access your wireless network. It does not add any security against even the most basic hackers or anyone with a free wireless packet sniffer.
  • IP Address Internet Protocol address, the unique number which identifies your computer to other computers on the same network. Public IP addresses are those on the Internet. Private IP addresses are those which only apply to your home network. Private IP addresses usually start with 10 or 192.168.
  • MAC Address or Wireless MAC Address The unique identifier for each individual network card, sort of like a universal serial number. The MAC address is used by the Ethernet and 802.11 protocols which handle sending the electricity or radio waves holding Internet Protocol packets from your computer to the router and back. Some cable and DSL modems are set to only work with particular MAC addresses, but all computers and most routers can forge their MAC addresses.
  • DNS Domain Name Service, how your computer turns an address like into an IP address it can use to connect to Google’s servers. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) sends your router a list of DNS servers using DHCP when your modem connects to the Internet. Then your router forwards that list of DNS servers to each computer on your network, again using DHCP.
  • Region Where your wireless router is located. Different regions use slightly different frequencies for wireless access. Using the wrong frequency is illegal in most countries.
  • Channel A group of wireless frequencies. All devices which want to communicate wirelessly need to use the same channel. The default channel in the U.S. is 11, but in a busy metropolitan area, you may find people using alternative channels.
  • IP Subnet Mask A way for network administrators to divide a large network into several smaller networks (sub-networks). Rarely seen outside large organizations.
  • Ping A program on Windows and other operating systems which sends a special packet over the network to another computer; the other computer is supposed to respond with a similar packet. Ping verifies that the other computer is available. Ping has been abused to attack some websites, like, so some routers don’t return pings.
  • DMZ Server De-militarized Zone server, a computer on your network which accepts all the traffic from the Internet that was not specifically requested by other computers on your network. The DMZ server will be treated as if it were plugged directly into your Internet connection—which mostly means that it’ll be repeatedly attacked by hackers and viruses.
  • MTU Size Maximum Transfer Unit, the largest amount of data that will be sent in one ethernet packet. Smaller packets can travel over a greater variety of networks but each packet has fixed overhead, so the smaller the packets you send, the slower your connection gets.

Now that you know some networking terms, buying equipment and troubleshooting your network problems should be easier.


  1. says

    I didn’t know the meaning of many of these terms. Great list with explanation.
    I feel like I know more about my computer and network now :)