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Consider a router to be an air traffic controller, and data packets to be airplanes flying to and from different airports across the world (or networks). Each packet must be steered to its destination as effectively as possible, just as each plane has a unique destination and travels a unique path to get there. Similar to how an air traffic controller ensures that flights arrive at their destinations without getting lost or experiencing severe disruptions along the way, a router assists in directing data packets to their intended IP address.

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In order to properly guide packets, a router makes use of an internal routing table, which is a collection of pathways leading to different network destinations. To determine where a packet is headed, the router examines its header. After that, it checks the routing table to find the most efficient way to that destination. The packet is subsequently sent to the next network along the route.

Read What is routing? to learn more about IP routing and the protocols that are employed throughout this process. What is routing?