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What is an Ethernet Switch?

An Ethernet cable.
Ethernet cables plugged into an Internet switch.
Four Ethernet jacks on the back of a router.
Article Details
  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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An Ethernet switch is a network switch that transmits data at Ethernet standard rates. An Ethernet is a collection of computer networking tools brought together with a specific set of standards. A network switch is another term for a device that connects different parts of a computer network together.

Developed in 1980, Ethernet networks are based on the IEEE 802.3 standard. The Ethernet model has replaced the token ring and Arcnet models of local area networks. An Ethernet switch must be able to transmit data at a specific level in order to ensure the connected computers and devices all function properly.

In order to be considered an Ethernet network, the switches and hubs must carry either 10/100 Megabits per second (Mbit/s) or 10/100/1000 Mbit/s ports. Ethernet switches are also available in larger sizes, up to 10 Gigabites per second (Gbit/s) ports. It is important to remember that while both switches and hubs must be able to meet the basic standard, switches can have multiple ports operating at different speeds.

An Ethernet switch is the traffic control center for the local area network (LAN). A LAN is a method of connecting multiple computers, printers, Internet routers and other related devices. The network switches are required to manage the transmission of data packets between multiple devices.

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The most common use of the basic 10/100 MBits/s switch is to manage a small office or home network. A standard configuration would include four computers, a printer and an Internet router. The switch ensures that information can be sent between connected.

In a LAN configuration, the Ethernet switch functions to create microsegmentation. Each computer has a dedicated Internet bandwidth and connection to the other devices on the network. This structure allows all the devices to function to their full capacity without impacting on the other connected devices.

The Ethernet switch manages these connections through the use of a table that lists all the destination addresses and the connected ports. When a data packet is received by the switch, it reads the address from the header information and then creates a temporary connection between the two addresses. The data packet is then routed to the destination and the connection closed.

To understand how an Ethernet switch functions, think back to the original telephone operators. The operator would intercept all incoming calls and determine who the caller wanted to be connected to. They would then plug a cable into the recipients slot and create a temporary connection to facilitate the communication.

Once the call was finished, the telephone operator would release the connection, making that line available for the next caller. The Ethernet switch functions as the operator, managing the resources available for maximum efficiency while ensuring that the appropriate connections are made. The efficiency of the switch improves the effectiveness of the network.

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Discuss this Article

Vaclav
Post 2

I wonder if ethernet switches will ever get faster than 10 Gigabytes. If you have a faster ethernet switch, will you need more ports?

pinkandred
Post 1

The tech guy at my office told me that we have a 24 port ethernet switch. That is how all the computers at the small office I work for connects to the internet. It is interesting to compare ethernet switching to the old-fashioned telephone switch operator as suggested by this article. I had never thought of comparing the two in that way.

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