Internet Gateway 101

What is an internet gateway and how do they work?

An Internet gateway is a network “node” that connects two different networks that use different protocols (rules) for communicating. In the most basic terms, an Internet gateway is where data stops on its way to or from other networks. Thanks to gateways, we can communicate and send data back and forth with each other.

Gateways can take several different forms from hardware to software – including routers and computers – and can perform a variety of tasks. These can range from passing traffic to the next ‘hop’ on its path to filtering traffic, proxies, or protocol translations. Because gateways are, by definition, at the edge of a network, they are often combined with firewalls, which keep out unwanted traffic or ‘foreign’ computers from a closed network.

For Internet connections at home, the Internet gateway is usually the Internet Service Provider (ISP), who, in this case, offers access to the entire Internet through its own network. If you have a Wi-Fi connection at home, your Internet gateway is the modem or modem/router combination that your ISP provides so that you connect to the Internet through their network.

If your Internet gateway is a computer server, which is more likely in an office or business situation, it acts as a firewall and a proxy server. A firewall, as discussed earlier, keeps unwanted traffic and outside computers out of a private network. A proxy server makes sure that the actual server can handle your online data requests.

How routers work as gateways

Routers are often Internet gateways. They are a piece of hardware that essentially connects your computer to the Internet. In home networks, it is usually something that comes with software you can install on one computer and then connect other computers to as well. Then everyone connected to your router can connect to the Internet through your ISP. While a router can be connected to more than two networks at a time, this is usually not the case for routers used at home.

When you send a computer through your computer, your router will figure out the next destination of the data depending on the networks it’s connected to. This is how a router acts as a gateway because it controls the path through which the information is sent and retrieved.

In short, an Internet gateway is one of the ways that information is sent and delivered to us as we use the Internet. It is what gives us the ability to access other networks to view web pages, initiate downloads or uploads, buy things online, and more.