Routers connect computer networks, allowing individual machines to interact with one another and share information. The machines ensure that information reaches its intended destination. Many routers also are used as a kind of gateway that prevents unauthorized traffic from entering a network.
When you send or receive information through the Internet, the data are broken down and distributed to a packet-switching network. An e-mail message sent from Los Angeles to New York, for example, is divided into packages of about 1,500 bytes. Each data package, or packet, includes the sender's and receiver's addresses and details on its place in the entire message.
The Los Angeles packets travel to the receiving computer in New York through various routes. Some packets might travel through the same route as others take completely different ones. Distributing the packets over several paths enables the router to transmit information quickly in a matter of milliseconds and prevents the network from overloading. Should a section of the network fail, the packets can reroute to a functioning path.
How Stuff Works: www.howstuffworks.com
Researched by CHRISTINE FREY and TOM ORONA /For The Times