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A router is a networking device that forwards data packets between computer networks. Routers perform the traffic directing functions between networks and on the global Internet. Data sent through a network, such as a web page or email, is in the form of data packets. A packet is typically forwarded from one router to another router through the networks that constitute an internetwork (e.g. the Internet) until it reaches its destination node.
A router is connected to two or more data lines from different IP networks. When a data packet comes in on one of the lines, the router reads the network address information in the packet header to determine the ultimate destination. Then, using information in its routing table or routing policy, it directs the packet to the next network on its journey.
The most familiar type of IP routers are home and small office routers that simply forward IP packets between the home computers and the Internet. More sophisticated routers, such as enterprise routers, connect large business or ISP networks up to the powerful core routers that forward data at high speed along the optical fiber lines of the Internet backbone.
Routers can be built from standard computer parts but are mostly specialized purpose-built computers. Early routers used software-based forwarding, running on a CPU. More sophisticated devices use application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to increase performance or add advanced filtering and firewall functionality.