Routing is the process of selecting best paths in a network. In the past, the term routing also meant forwarding network traffic among networks. However, that latter function is better described as forwarding. Routing is performed for many kinds of networks, including the telephone network (circuit switching), electronic data networks (such as the Internet), and transportation networks. This article is concerned primarily with routing in electronic data networks using packet switching technology.
In packet switching networks, routing directs packet forwarding (the transit of logically addressed network packets from their source toward their ultimate destination) through intermediate nodes. Intermediate nodes are typically network hardware devices such as routers, bridges, gateways, firewalls, or switches. General-purpose computers can also forward packets and perform routing, though they are not specialized hardware and may suffer from limited performance.
The routing process usually directs forwarding on the basis of routing tables, which maintain a record of the routes to various network destinations. Thus, constructing routing tables, which are held in the router's memory, is very important for efficient routing. Most routing algorithms use only one network path at a time. Multipath routing techniques enable the use of multiple alternative paths.
In internetworking, the process of moving a packet of data from source to destination. Routing is usually performed by a dedicated device called a router. Routing is a key feature of the Internet because it enables messages to pass from one computer to another and eventually reach the target machine. Each intermediary computer performs routing by passing along the message to the next computer. Part of this process involves analyzing a routing table to determine the best path.
Routing is often confused with bridging, which performs a similar function. The principal difference between the two is that bridging occurs at a lower level and is therefore more of a hardware function whereas routing occurs at a higher level where the software component is more important. And because routing occurs at a higher level, it can perform more complex analysis to determine the optimal path for the packet.