What Is a Router and How to Use One: The Beginner’s FAQ
When was the last time you had to deal with the hardware that lets you connect to the internet? A router is one crucial piece in your internet setup.
Let us explain what a router is and give you some basic tips for using it.
What Is a Router?
Routers are the nodes that make up a computer network like the internet. The router you use at home is the central node of your home network.
It functions as an information manager between the internet and all devices that go online (i.e. all devices connected to the router). Generally speaking, routers direct incoming traffic to its destination.
This also makes your router the first line of security in protecting your home network from malicious online attacks.
What Does a Router Do?
Your router handles network traffic. For example, to view this article, data packages coding for this website have to transit from our server, through various nodes on the internet, and finally through your router to arrive on your phone or computer. On your device, your browser decodes those data packages to display the article you’re currently reading.
Since a typical household has more than one device that connects to the internet, you need a router to manage the incoming network signals. In other words, your router makes sure that the data packages coding for a website you want to view on your computer aren’t sent to your phone. It does that by using your device’s MAC address.
While your router has a unique (external) IP address to receive data packages from servers worldwide, every device on your home network also carries a unique MAC address . Simply put, when you try to access information online, your router maintains a table to keep track of which device requested information from where. Based on this table, your router distributes incoming data packages to the correct recipient.
What Is the Difference Between Modems and Routers?
A modem turns the proprietary network signal of your ISP (internet service provider) into a standard network signal. In theory, you can choose between multiple ISPs and some of them may use the same delivery route. Your modem knows which signals to read and translate.
The kind of modem your ISP will provide you with depends on how you’re connecting to the internet. For example, a DSL modem requires a different technology than a cable or fiber optic broadband modem. That’s because one uses the copper wiring of your telephone line, while the others use a coaxial or a fiber optic cable, respectively.
The DSL modem has to filter and read both the low frequencies that phone and voice data produce, as well as the high frequencies of internet data. Cable modems, on the other hand, have to differentiate between television and internet signals, which are transmitted on different channels, rather than different frequencies. Finally, fiber optic uses pulses of light to transmit information. The modem has to decode these signals into standard data packages.
Once the modem has turned the ISP’s network signal into data packages, the router can distribute them to the target device .
Do I Need a Modem and a Router?
Yes and no.
While you do need both, you might not need two separate devices. Nowadays, many modems can also function as a router. Typically, these devices also act as Wi-Fi routers, meaning you get three functions in one single device.
How to Use a Router
For the most part, a router is a set-and-forget kind of device—that’s until you start having issues with your network , at which point the router will become an essential part of your troubleshooting routine.
How to Set Up a Router
Typically, routers are plug-and-play devices that don’t require any additional setup to function. However, as mentioned above, your router is also a security device. Hence, it’s important that you manually configure your router .
We strongly recommend changing your default administrator credentials, setting a wireless password, and turning off WPS. You should also use a strong wireless encryption standard, change your default SSID name and router IP, and disable remote administration. We have previously covered these steps in the article above, but will also address some of them below.
How to Access a Router
To configure your router, you need to create a wired connection between your computer and your router. The Ethernet LAN cable you need for this should have come with your router.
Once you have established this physical connection, open your browser and enter the IP address of your router. The typical default router IP address is 192.168.1.1. Check the back of your router for a sticker with the information you need to log into your router, including the IP address, username, and password.
You can also find the IP address of your router from your desktop, as described below. When you open the right address, you’ll see a login screen where you can enter your router’s default login credentials.
What Is the IP Address of My Router?
To find the IP address of your router from the comfort of your Windows computer, open a command prompt (right-click the Start button and select Command Prompt), type ipconfig, and press Enter. Now find the entry that says Default Gateway; this is your router’s IP address.
In our example, the Default Gateway is a Telus Wi-Fi router and the (internal) IP address is 192.168.1.254.
How to Change a Router Administrator Password
We strongly recommend changing your router’s default administrator password. Not least because it’s typically printed on the back of the router, meaning anyone with physical access to the device could access and manipulate your internet settings.
When you first log into your router, the software might even ask you to change the admin password.
To manually change the router password, log into your router as described above. The following steps will depend on your router. Generally, you should look for a section that covers Security, Advanced setup, or Administration.
On my Telus router, the setting is found under Security > Admin Password. Just enter your old password, enter your new password twice to confirm, then save your changes.
If your router was hacked and the password changed, you can try to reset your router (see below for instructions) to restore default settings, including its default login credentials.
Note: Some routers will allow you to reset your password using the default password found on the back of your router. In this case, make sure physical access to your router is restricted to a trusted circle of people.
How to Change a Router Wi-Fi Password
Your router comes with a default Wi-Fi password, which you should change to increase security.
To change the default password, log into your router as described above to access its admin panel. The exact steps will depend on your router. Generally, find the wireless settings. Your router might call your Wi-Fi password a security key or passphrase.
How to Restart a Router
Restarting your router is a simple troubleshooting step that could help you solve a random network issue. If you have a separate router and modem, be sure to follow these steps to avoid creating a bigger issue:
- Unplug all your network hardware. This includes your modem, router, and possibly network switches.
- Wait for at least 10 seconds. This step is crucial! On the one hand, a short cooldown time between turning a device off and back on again can prevent hardware damage. On the other hand, you’ll make sure that your router’s RAM is fully cleared and—if you’re using dynamic IP addresses –your modem will request a fresh IP address.
- Turn your modem back on.
- Wait for your modem to boot and establish a connection. This is another crucial step! Your modem needs time to authenticate (shake hands) with your ISP and receive a fresh IP address.
- Turn on your router. Obviously, if your modem and your router are one device, you can skip this step.
- Reconnect any other network hardware you unplugged earlier.
You’ll have to give it a few minutes before your internet will come back on. Wait for the device(s) to restore your connection, then check whether the reboot solved the issues you’ve had.
How to Reset a Router
Should you ever lose your router’s custom password or mess up the settings, a reset can restore its default settings and login details.
To reset your router, find the respective physical button and press it for at least 10 seconds. You might have to use a pin to access the reset button.
Once you’ve fully reset the router, you’ll be able to access it using the default login details listed on its back. But first, give it some time to restore its internet connection.
Your Router in a Nutshell
Now you know the basics of what a router is, and how to use it.
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