What is a default gateway

When a host wants to reach a destination that is outside of its own network, it has to use a default gateway. We use a router or multilayer switch (that’s a switch that can do routing) as a default gateway.

In this lesson I’ll explain how a host knows when to use the default gateway or not and how it works behind the scenes. Let’s start with a simple example:

two hosts same subnet

Above we have two hosts connected to a switch. We only have network with subnet mask

When one host wants to send something to another host then it will check if the destination is inside or outside its own network. When the destination is in the same network then it will use ARP to find the MAC address of the destination and it can send the IP packet. How does the host check if the destination is in the same network? This is done by checking the subnet mask. For example, let’s say that wants to send an IP packet to

Source 11000000 10101000 00000001 00000001
Destination 11000000 10101000 00000001 00000010
Subnet mask 11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000

The subnet mask tells us which part of the IP address is the network and host part, the host that uses sees that is using the exact same network address and will know that it can use ARP to find the MAC address, create an Ethernet frame, encapsulate the IP packet and send it towards the switch.

Now let’s take a look at an example where we do require a default gateway. Take a look at this picture:

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Forum Replies

  1. What if i have 2 network interface card on my host system with two different default gateway IP address configured.

    Host will use which default gateway to forward the traffice. ??

  2. Hi Shinu,

    It will depend on the host but Windows for example uses a metric to determine which default gateway to pick.

    Try a “route print” on a Windows machine when it’s connected with two network interfaces and has default gateways. You can see which default gateway it will prefer.


  3. Rene,

    Hello, normally I use the command
    ip route
    to define the default route, but there is another command,
    ip default-gateway
    also. What is the difference between the two commands?



  4. Hi Chris,

    IP route is used on a router to enter something in its routing table. The effect will be the same…

    Devices like switches don’t build a routing table so that’s when you need to use the ip default-gateway command. Also, on a router you can use it if you disable the routing table with “no ip routing”.


  5. Hi Rene,

    I have a question. Does the ARP table at Host A keep an entry for each non-local IP address to the Router’s MAC address, or it will keep only one entry relating the Router’s interface IP address to its MAC address?



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