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What Is a Default Gateway and How Is It Used?

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What Is a Default Gateway and How Is It Used?

Key Points

  • Default gateways serve as a central node for all computers or devices on a network to connect to another network.
  • Default gateways exist primarily on Layer 3 of the OSI Model or the Network Layer.
  • Changing a default gateway can be done by replacing network hardware or creating subnets.
  • You can find the default gateway of your computer’s network by using commands like ‘ipconfig /all’ on Windows or ‘IP route’ on Linux.

Have you ever heard the term default gateway? It is a relatively common term in computer networking and serves a vital function in any network. Today’s guide will be taking a closer look at one of the most crucial functions of computer networking, where you can find them, and how they work.

Computer networks are a complex subject, so this will serve more of a high-level discussion of the term as well as explore how it works. You might be out of luck if you’re looking for help on your Network+ or CCNA certifications. However, if you’re new to the networking world, this should serve as a great primer to dip your feet in the waters of computer networking.

Defining a Default Gateway

Every network has a default gateway. They serve as a central node for all the computers or devices on a network to connect to another network. You’ll see these in use with just about everything with a network in general. Business campuses use them, your home network has one, and you’ll even find them further down the line when looking at the many networks composing the internet.

No matter the network, you’ll find a default gateway at the heart of it. It serves a key function in the role of any modern network. You’ll find them with IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, and you can even find the one you’re using to read this very article.

How a Default Gateway Works

default gateway
Every router, gateway, or modem has a default gateway.

As we explained, every network has a default gateway. However, its overall function changes depending on the network type. Let’s explore that a little further so you can see how crucial it is to have a central node at the heart of any network connection.

Local Area Networks

In local area networks, the default gateway can be utilized in a few different ways. Depending on the size of the local area network, it can serve as a way for computers on different subnets to communicate with one another. Business campuses in particular can employ virtual networks, especially if they’re running virtual machines on a mammoth multi-core server.

They also serve the purpose of acting as a gateway towards outside communications in a local area network. This is particularly useful if you’re using something like a VPN to connect two geographically separated locations. The default gateway in this instance is going to allow those computers to connect to one another and communicate as needed.

Wide Area Networks

Wide area networks are a fairly nebulous concept when you really get down to it. It can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around, but the internet itself is just a series of network intercommunication with differing resources facing client machines as needed.

At your home, you’ll have a default gateway, usually on a router or modem. This serves as your outside connection to the world, in much the same way that a local area network’s gateway might function. Without a centralized location for your network traffic to be routed, there would be no way to access external resources.

The OSI Model

Every aspect of the computer network operates on the OSI Model. Even the default gateway exists as a function of the OSI Model. Gateways exist primarily on Layer 3 of the OSI Model or the Network Layer.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Gateways are being used to communicate between networks. You aren’t going through things to be served to a client or application machine, but rather just simple network communication. The transmissions received from a gateway will travel through the successive layers to reach Layer 7 so you can see things on your computer screen.

Why Are Default Gateways Used?

Your network would be an absolute mess without a central location to gather all traffic. Default gateways play a key role in serving as a central point for all network communication. As such, they are an indispensable part of the computer network.

Simply put, condensing all network traffic to a single point of contact has its benefits. It helps to keep the actual transmissions out of the network tidily routed. This can be an absolute blessing when looking at something like a larger business network.

You’ll typically have multiple subnets meant to provision IP addresses and network connectivity across all the machines on a segment. The default gateway allows those machines to still connect to more centralized resources, like shared files. Those same computers will also still need access to the internet.

It is much easier to route dozens of transmissions out to the web rather than going about the mess of hundreds or even thousands of concurrent transmissions going out. You’re also keeping the internal routing of the network in a centralized manner, letting IT personnel see when issues arise on a segment if needed.

Can You Change Them?

default gateway
Putting segments of a network on a subnet is one way to change your default gateway.

Changing a default gateway can happen in a few different ways. You can change it simply by replacing the network hardware itself, like replacing your home router. With the more complex routing and switching needed in enterprise environments, changing the default gateway is usually done by the creation of subnets.

As discussed previously, this allows for less network congestion. Your computers are still receiving the same level of service. Home users can easily change it just by heading to the settings of your network adapter. It isn’t advised to change it, but you certainly can if you want. You can also change the address of your default gateway in the settings of a router.

Finding Out the Default Gateway of Your Network

You can find the default gateway of your computer’s network rather easily at home. Here are a few different ways depending on the operating system.

Windows

On Windows, the fastest and most effective way of seeing your network information is to open up the command line. From there, you’ll want to enter ipconfig /all. This is going to give a massive information dump of all pertinent network information for your particular computer.

However, nestled alongside the Domain Name Servers and your current IP address, you’ll find your default gateway. You can also see this in the Network and Internet section in the Control Panel. From there, click on “View network status and tasks”, which should return your current network connection.

Clicking on that should give the same information you’ll find from the ipconfig command, just in a format that’s easier on the eyes. The name can differ, especially depending on your network hardware. Typically, you’ll see it under IPv4 Default Gateway, however.

Mac

To see your default gateway on a Mac, you’ll want to head to System Settings. From there click on the Network tab, which should show your active connection. Click on your active connection and then click on the details button to the direct right. You’ll need to head over to the TCP/IP tab, but the default gateway should be seen under the option labeled router.

Linux

Finding the default gateway on Linux is as easy as can be. You’ll want to open up your terminal and enter the command IP route. The first result you get should be labeled simply as Default, which is your default gateway. Depending on the distro there might be other ways to check the network settings.

Are Default Gateways Important to Modern Networking?

So, are gateways crucial to a modern network? They certainly are, as you’d be up a creek without a paddle when it comes to accessing anything. Networks have come a long way since their earliest days, and advances like the default gateway help to keep access going smoothly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does every device have a default gateway?

If it is accessing a network, yes.

Can you view the default gateway on a smartphone?

You absolutely can, you should find it under the network settings for your Wi-Fi on your iPhone or Android.

If I connect straight to a modem, do I have a default gateway?

Yes, you still a default gateway.

Are default gateways a Windows function?

No, they are an open and universal standard.

Can default gateways use IPv6?

They can, it just depends on your network hardware.

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