Typical users may be unaware of the presence of numerous routers in their own network or in the Internet. Users expect to be able to access web pages, send e-mails, and download music – whether the server they are accessing is on their own network or on another network half-way around the world. However, networking professionals know it is the router that is responsible for forwarding packets from network-to-network, from the original source to the final destination.
A router connects multiple networks. This means that it has multiple interfaces that each belong to a different IP network. When a router receives an IP packet on one interface, it determines which interface to use to forward the packet onto its destination. The interface that the router uses to forward the packet may be the network of the final destination of the packet (the network with the destination IP address of this packet), or it may be a network connected to another router that is used to reach the destination network.
Each network that a router connects to typically requires a separate interface. These interfaces are used to connect a combination of both Local Area Networks (LANs) and Wide Area Networks (WANs). LANs are commonly Ethernet networks that contain devices such as PCs, printers, and servers. WANs are used to connect networks over a large geographical area. For example, a WAN connection is commonly used to connect a LAN to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) network.
In the figure, we see that routers R1 and R2 are responsible for receiving the packet on one network and forwarding the packet out another network toward the destination network.