I've seen a lot of responses - both in here and in threads in other sections - where forumgoers struggle with networking at home. The hope here is to help get some of this stuff demystified for the neophyte, and show people that running your own home network is easier than it looks. We'll even discuss some more advanced items that are easier than you'd think (like getting a Pi Hole running on your network, letting you say goodbye to online ads across your network.)So, What's In A Router Anyway?
Let's start with the one piece of network gear that many people have - a router. The reality is that there's a lot going on in said device - more than one would think. First off, the term "router", in networking parlance, refers to a device that routes
packets between two networks with different subnet definitions. As such, it will have two ports with two different IP addresses - we refer to the address internal to our own network (usually 192.168.0.1) as the "near" side, and the side that get an address from our ISP as the "far" side. But as you've noted, your "router" does more than that - this is because it's a purpose built appliance with a number of components inside, such as:
- A multi-port switch, so that multiple devices can be hooked to it for network access.
- A Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP server, so that your network devices can be given addresses dynamically, instead of being statically assigned (though there are cases when a device needs a static IP.)
- A Domain Name Service (DNS) relay, to let your devices know how to resolve domain names. (That said, most consumer grade routers just relay the location of a DNS service online, whether it's your ISP's DNS server or one run by a large online entity like Google or Cloudflare.)
- A wireless access point, to allow devices to connect wirelessly to the network. There may even be guest networks that the router isolates.
- A lightweight web server to provide a front end to manage the router.
Higher end routers may even have things like Quality of Service (QoS) settings, which allows the router to prioritize packets based on function, so that things like communications and games run better when there's traffic on the network. There are even mesh routers which use special wireless networking protocols to interlink multiple physical units to provide physical network access in areas where running a cable may be difficult.
Now, how much router you need depends on your network and the devices you're using. If all you have connected to it is your smartphones, a laptop that only gets light use, and a streaming device, then a basic router will do the job fine. If, on the other hand, you have a ton of connected devices, you're gaming frequently online, and/or have smart home devices - you'll want to consider a more powerful router that supports things like QoS and guest networks, while people with large houses or who want to supply connectivity to an unconnected workshop should look into mesh solutions to bridge large gaps in coverage. That said, no matter what sort of router you get, always change the default settings such as password and network name/passcode
. The default passwords for most major brands of router are well known, and not changing them makes you vulnerable - so get them changed!