What Does Network Switches Do



Network switches are a vital component in any modern computer network. They allow devices to communicate with each other efficiently and securely by directing traffic to its intended destination. Switches come in a variety of types and sizes, each with different features and capabilities. Understanding how network switches work and the benefits they provide is essential for anyone responsible for managing a network. In this article, we’ll explore what network switches do, the different types available, and factors to consider when choosing one for your network. We’ll also cover best practices for managing and maintaining switches to ensure optimal performance and security.

What is a network switch?

A network switch is a device that operates at the Data Link layer of theOSL model—Layer 2. It takes in packets being sent by devices that are connected to its physical ports and sends them out again, but only through the ports that lead to the devices the packets are intended to reach. They can also operate at the network layer–Layer 3 where routing occurs.

Switches are a common component of networks based on ethernet fibre channel Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), and InfiniBand among others. In general, though, most switches today use ethernet.

A network switch connects devices within a network (often a local area network or LAN*) and forwards data packets to and from those devices. Unlike a router, a switch only sends data to the single device it is intended for (which may be another switch, a router, or a user’s computer), not to networks of multiple devices.

Switches are networking devices operating at layer 2 or a data link layer of the OSI model. They connect devices in a network and use packet switching to send, receive or forward data packets or data frames over the network.

A switch has many ports, to which computers are plugged in. When a data frame arrives at any port of a network switch, it examines the destination address, performs necessary checks and sends the frame to the corresponding device(s).It supports unicast, multicast as well as broadcast communications.

multicast switches

Features of Switches

  • A switch operates in the layer 2, i.e. data link layer of the OSI model.
  • It is an intelligent network device that can be conceived as a multiport network bridge.
  • It uses MAC addresses (addresses of medium access control sublayer) to send data packets to selected destination ports.
  • It uses packet switching technique to receive and forward data packets from the source to the destination device.
  • It is supports unicast (one-to-one), multicast (one-to-many) and broadcast (one-to-all) communications.
  • Transmission mode is full duplex, i.e. communication in the channel occurs in both the directions at the same time. Due to this, collisions do not occur.
  • Switches are active devices, equipped with network software and network management capabilities.
  • Switches can perform some error checking before forwarding data to the destined port.
  • The number of ports is higher – 24/48.

How Network Switches Work

Overview of Network Switching

Network switching is the process of forwarding data from one device to another on a network. When a data packet arrives at a network switch, the switch examines the destination MAC address, compares it to its internal table of known addresses, and forwards the packet to the appropriate port. This process is known as switching.

Switching Methods

There are several methods of network switching, including store-and-forward, cut-through, and fragment-free. Store-and-forward switching involves the switch receiving the entire data packet before forwarding it, ensuring that it’s error-free. Cut-through switching, on the other hand, forwards packets immediately after receiving the destination address, resulting in faster transmission but potentially sending corrupted packets. Fragment-free switching is a hybrid approach that forwards packets after examining the first 64 bytes, which is usually enough to detect errors.

Packets and Frames

Data transmitted on a network is broken down into smaller units called packets (for network layer protocols) or frames (for data link layer protocols). Network switches operate at the data link layer, meaning they deal with frames. Frames contain the source and destination MAC addresses, as well as other information like error detection codes. Switches use these addresses to determine where to forward the frame, ensuring that it only reaches its intended destination.

Types of Switches

There are variety of switches that can be broadly categorised into 4 types −

  • Unmanaged Switch − These are inexpensive switches commonly used in home networks and small businesses. They can be set up by simply plugging in to the network, after which they instantly start operating. When more devices needs to be added, more switches are simply added by this plug and play method. They are referred to as u managed since they do not require to be configured or monitored.
  • Managed Switch − These are costly switches that are used in organisations with large and complex networks, since they can be customized to augment the functionalities of a standard switch. The augmented features may be QoS (Quality of Service) like higher security levels, better precision control and complete network management. Despite their cost, they are preferred in growing organizations due to their scalability and flexibility. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) is used for configuring managed switches.
  • LAN Switch − Local Area Network (LAN) switches connects devices in the internal LAN of an organization. They are also referred as Ethernet switches or data switches. These switches are particularly helpful in reducing network congestion or bottlenecks. They allocate bandwidth in a manner so that there is no overlapping of data packets in a network.
  • PoE Switch − Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches are used in PoE Gogabit Ethernets. PoE technology combine data and power transmission over the same cable so that devices connected to it can receive both electricity as well as data over the same line. PoE switches offer greater flexibility and simplifies the cabling connections

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Network Switch

When choosing a network switch, there are several factors you should consider to ensure that it meets the needs of your network:

Network Size and Scope

The size of your network and the number of devices that need to be connected will determine the number of ports required. You should also consider how the network will be used and the types of devices that will be connected.

Speed and Bandwidth Requirements

The speed and bandwidth of your network will impact the performance of your switch. Consider the types of data being transferred, how much traffic your network sees, and ensure that the switch you choose can handle the necessary speed and bandwidth requirements.

Budget and Cost Considerations

Network switches can range in price from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. Determine your budget and evaluate the features and capabilities you need to ensure that you’re getting the most value for your money.

Best Practices for Managing and Maintaining Network Switches

Maintaining your network switches is crucial to ensuring optimal performance and avoiding unnecessary downtime. Here are some best practices for managing and maintaining your network switches:

Regular Firmware Updates

Firmware updates can address security vulnerabilities and improve the performance of your switch. Regularly updating your firmware ensures that your switch is running efficiently and securely.

Monitoring Network Traffic

Monitoring your network traffic allows you to identify and troubleshoot potential issues before they cause larger problems. Track bandwidth usage, look for patterns, and identify any bottlenecks that may be slowing down your network.

Proactive Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Performing regular maintenance on your switch, such as cleaning it and checking for physical damage, can extend its lifespan and prevent potential hardware failures. If you notice any issues with your switch, troubleshoot and address them proactively to avoid downtime.In conclusion, network switches play a critical role in modern computer networking. By directing and managing traffic, switches increase network performance, improve security, and enable connectivity between devices. Whether you’re a network administrator or simply someone interested in learning more about networking, understanding the types of switches available, their features and capabilities, and best practices for managing them can help you build a more efficient and secure network.


What is the difference between a managed and unmanaged switch?

An unmanaged switch is a plug-and-play device that requires no configuration, while a managed switch allows for more granular control over network traffic with features such as VLAN support, Quality of Service (QoS), and remote management options.

What is Power over Ethernet (PoE) support?

PoE is a feature that allows network devices such as IP phones, cameras, and access points to receive power and data over the same Ethernet cable, eliminating the need for separate power sources. PoE support is a common feature in many network switches.

How do I choose the right switch for my network?

Factors to consider when choosing a network switch include network size and scope, speed and bandwidth requirements, and budget and cost considerations. It’s important to choose a switch that can handle your current network needs while also accommodating future growth.

What are some best practices for managing and maintaining network switches?

Best practices for managing and maintaining network switches include regularly updating firmware, monitoring network traffic to identify issues and potential security threats, and proactively performing maintenance and troubleshooting to ensure optimal performance and uptime.

Benefits or advantages of Switches

Following are the benefits or advantages of Switches:
➨They increase the available bandwidth of the network.
➨They help in reducing workload on individual host PCs.
➨They increase the performance of the network.
➨Networks which use switches will have less frame collisions. This is due to the fact that switches create collision domains for each connection.
➨Switches can be connected directly to workstations.

Drawbacks or disadvantages of Switches

Following are the disadvantages of Switches:
➨They are more expensive compare to network bridges.
➨Network connectivity issues are difficult to be traced through the network switch.
➨Broadcast traffic may be troublesome.
➨If switches are in promiscuous mode, they are vulnerable to security attacks e.g. spoofing IP address or capturing of ethernet frames.
➨Proper design and configuration is needed in order to handle multicast packets.
➨While limiting broadcasts, they are not as good as routers.


Router and Switch are both network connecting devices. Router works at network layer and is responsibe to find the shortest path for a packet whereas Switch connects various devices in a network. Router connects devices across multiple networks.

Following are the important differences between Router and Switch.

Sr. No.KeyRouterSwitch
1ObjectiveRouter main objective is to connect various networks.Switch main objective is to connect various devices in a network.
2LayerRouter works in Network Layer.Switch works in Data Link Layer.
3UsageRouter is used in LAN and MAN.Switch is used only in LAN.
4Data FormatRouter sends data in form of packets.Switch sends data in form of packets and frames.
5Mode of TransmissionRouter follows duplex mode of transmission.Switch also follows duplex mode of transmission.
6CollisionLess collision in case of Router.In full duplex mode, no collision happens in switch too.
7NAT CompatabilityCompatible with NAT.Not compatible with NAT.
8TypeRouting type is Adaptive and Non-adaptive routing.Switching type is Circuit, Packet and Message switching.


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Author: refuge_2020

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